A medical marijuana patient has appealed a Montana District Court’s order forbidding him from using state-approved and doctor-recommended marijuana. And on Nov. 2, both the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Montana and Patients & Families United, a support group for medical marijuana users, joined Timothy Nelson’s appeal, arguing that the sentence handed down to the Conrad resident violates Montana law and Nelson’s rights. In a legal brief due Nov. 30, the state attorney general’s office will urge the Montana Supreme Court to uphold the sentence.
In early 2007, Nelson, who suffers from degenerative back problems and pain resulting from a car accident, pleaded no contest to marijuana-growing charges in exchange for a three-year deferred sentence. Although Nelson was not a registered medical marijuana patient at the time of his arrest, he was admitted to the program shortly thereafter, before Pondera County District Judge Laurie McKinnon issued her sentence. In her ruling, McKinnon ordered Nelson to give up his medical marijuana during his three-year probation, but said he could substitute a synthesized drug called Marinol that imitates marijuana’s effects.
Nelson’s attorney, Colin Stephens, says the sentence unfairly condemns the man to three years of excruciating pain because he can’t afford the prescription and, even if he could, it doesn’t relieve Nelson’s pain as well as medical marijuana does. The ACLU of Montana and Patients & Families United have taken the argument one step further, arguing that a judge has no right to interfere with a doctor’s advice to his patient, especially if it complies with a state law that was passed into law by a majority of voters.
“A patient has a fundamental right to follow his doctor’s advice, and we don’t think a court, a judge or a probation officer has any right to interfere with a patient-doctor relationship,” says Tom Daubert, founder of Patients & Families United. “In this case, the cost of Marinol exceeds [Nelson’s] entire monthly revenue and it doesn’t provide relief, so he’s being sentenced to three years of agony.”