Convicts on parole or probation in Montana currently have the same rights as anybody else to use medical marijuana as prescribed by a physician, but the Montana Department of Corrections (DOC) wants to alter this policy because of a perception that parolees are “doctor shopping” for the legal medication.
In the Dec. 6 issue of the Montana Administrative Register, a bi-monthly publication of the state government used to announce proposed policy changes, the DOC signaled its intention to curtail marijuana use among its wards, arguing, “It is poor public policy to permit offenders to use illegal drugs.”
DOC Probation Bureau Chief Ron Alsbury says the rule needs changing because Montana’s medical marijuana law conflicts directly with federal laws banning the substance outright.
“Having that conflict between the two laws makes it very difficult because we have an offender who is on parole or probation, and is breaking the law,” he says.
Patients and Families United, a statewide support and watchdog group for medical marijuana patient rights says the DOC’s argument misinterprets the law.
“[Medical marijuana] is not an illegal drug,” says Tom Daubert, communications director for the advocacy group. “Sixty-two percent of people voted to allow medical marijuana for patients and now the DOC wants to take that right away for some.”
Montana Initiative 148 legalized medical marijuana for people with cancer, glaucoma, HIV/AIDS, severe nausea and chronic pain, but prohibits even prescribed usage in schools and corrections facilities and while using public transportation. The 2004 initiative makes no prohibitions specific to parolees as long as they can provide documentation from a physician explaining the need for the otherwise illegal substance.
Daubert says that the DOC wants to chip away at the law piece by piece. “[The DOC] never liked this law. It’s always been something they’ve wanted to get rid of but couldn’t,” he says.
As for the theory that parolees, particularly those with past drug problems, actively “doctor shop” for medical marijuana, Daubert says that’s absurd. He likens medical marijuana to insulin or blood pressure medication, and says outlawing it would be cruel.
“For a lot of these patients, banning medical marijuana is condemning them to a life of pain,” he says. “It would affect only a small amount of patients, but it would be a large effect.”
Citizens can comment on the proposed rule change by contacting the DOC before Jan. 10.