Medical marijuana probation ban sentences patients to problems, attorney says
Last week, we told you about a court ruling that bans medical marijuana patients from using cannabis while on probation.
The decision was praised in a Denver Post editorial, but George Yingling, the attorney who represented Leonard Charles Watkins, the man at the center of the case, believes it was the wrong call.
As we've reported, Watkins wound up on probation as the result of a 2005 conviction involving sexual assault on a child. Nonetheless, a judge had sanctioned his use of MMJ, much to the chagrin of 18th Judicial District DA Carol Chambers. In an e-mail statement to 9News, Chambers wrote, "Does anyone think it's a good idea to allow a convicted sex offender to get high? People on probation have admitted to violating the law. There are different public safety concerns and different laws that apply to them than apply to the rest of the community." No surprse, then, that Chambers's office subsequently challenged the decision to allow medical cannabis use.
Before the Colorado Court of Appeals, Watkins argued that Amendment 20, which legalized medical marijuana in Colorado, "is paramount and necessarily prevails" over probation rules that forbid him from using or possessing "any narcotic, dangerous or abusable substance without a prescription," according to the ruling on view below. The judges were not persuaded, however. Here's a key excerpt from their decision:
The Amendment provides that it shall be an exception from the state's criminal laws for any patient in lawful possession of a "registry identification card" to use marijuana for medical purposes.... Under the Amendment, however, a physician does not prescribe marijuana, but may only provide "written documentation" stating that the patient has a debilitating medical condition and might benefit from the medical use of marijuana... Therefore, defendant's physician's certification does not constitute a "written lawful prescription" as required by the terms of his probation.
Just as important is this passage, which refers to a ruling against Jason Beinor, a medical marijuana patient who lost his street-sweeping job after failing a random drug test.
As a division of this court recognized in Beinor, the Amendment created a defense to criminal prosecution and is not a "grant to medical marijuana users of an unlimited constitutional right to use the drug in any place or any manner."
By the way, marijuana activist Kathleen Chippi, who encouraged Beinor to appeal the judgment against him, tells us that the Colorado Supreme Court has not yet decided whether it will weigh in on the matter.
As for attorney Yingling, he's frustrated by the verdict in the Watkins case. Yingling is not a specialist in marijuana law, nor is he a personal fan of weed. "I've got a medical condition where I could get a medical marijuana card," he says. "But I don't like the drug. I don't want to be around it." Moreover, he concedes that "before I started doing research, I didn't know squat about medical marijuana. I was a blank slate." Before long, though, he became convinced that some people, including his client, benefit tremendously from MMJ use. And he feels that forcing Watkins to use heavy narcotics rather than pot to treat his condition is counter-intuitive.
Page down to read more of Yingling's views and the Watkins ruling.