When Pennsylvania started their medical marijuana program, certifications for individuals on probation and parole were at the mercy of PO’s. Forward thinking probation and parole officers believed in the medicinal power of marijuana and were happy to allow their parolees and probationers the ability to become certified. However, other PO’s felt less inclined to permit it.
For the first few years of the PA MMJ program, the legalities surrounding certification for probationers and parolees was made even more complicated by the fact that some counties allowed it while others did not. Eventually, the PA Supreme Court stepped in to help.
In response to a September 2019 ruling in Lebanon county—which gave individuals on probation only 30 days to clear any trace of marijuana from their systems or else be in violation of probation—the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) filed a lawsuit on behalf of several county residents. Lebanon was one of eight PA counties to block the use of medical marijuana for parolees and probationers.
The unanimous court ruling that stemmed from the ACLU’s lawsuit, which came to a conclusion in June 2020, determined that Lebanon County’s ban on medical marijuana violated the PA medical marijuana access law. The law was established to protect patients from punishment for the use of medical marijuana.
In a statement from the PA Supreme Court, Chief Justice Thomas G Saylor wrote:
The MMA [Medical Marijuana Act] contains an immunity provision protecting patients from government sanctions. Per the statute, no such individual “shall be subject to arrest, prosecution or penalty in any manner, or denied any right or privilege, … solely for lawful use of medical marijuana … or for any other action taken in accordance with this act.” … Although ensuring strict adherence to the MMA by those possessing a valid medical marijuana card may be difficult, the alternative selected by the District of diluting the immunity afforded to probationer patients by the Act is simply not a viable option.
Though the ruling was in response to a specific county’s prohibition of medical marijuana while on parole or probation, the Court’s decision marked an important day across the state. It validated the medicinal benefits of cannabis and provided opportunities for a marginalized group of people access to the medicine without fear of further prosecution.
Following the Court’s decision in Lebanon, the other seven counties that declined parolees and probationers the use of medical marijuana began reevaluating their policies. As of June 2020, many of those other counties, including Jefferson County, have since overturned their previous ban. Others, such as Lycoming County, were undergoing litigation with the ACLU in similar cases.
Bottom line, though, is if you are on probation or parole, the Lebanon County ruling and the Medical Marijuana Act grants you access to medical marijuana without penalty of prosecution. You are no longer at the mercy of your PO to become certified and can begin taking your health into your own hands.