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Appellate Court Makes Medical Marijuana Use In Colorado More Complicated

A new ruling by the Colorado Court of Appeals states that people on probation are prohibited from possessing or using medical marijuana.

In the case of People v. Watkins, the defendant, as part of a plea agreement, pled guilty to a class 3 felony, for which he was sentenced to six years of probation. As part of his probation, the defendant agreed to certain terms and conditions, including that he would “not violate any laws.”

A few months after being sentenced to probation, the defendant received a certificate from the state that allowed him to possess and use medical marijuana. The defendant’s probation officer brought the matter before the court to determine if the court would approve of the defendant’s legal use of medical marijuana while on probation. Because the terms of probation did not preclude the use of marijuana with a prescription, the defendant’s use of medicinal marijuana was approved by the judge. The state appealed the decision, however.

The Appeals Court Disagreed

On appeal, the appellate court reversed the lower court’s decision to allow the defendant to use medical marijuana. The court reasoned that because the terms of probation included a provision stating that the defendant will “not violate any laws,” and since possession of marijuana is a violation of federal law, possession of medical marijuana was thus a violation of probation.

The appellate court’s ruling is a setback for proponents of medical marijuana. Following the ruling, the group Legalize 2012 stated: “this ruling is a huge blow to medical marijuana patients statewide, many of whom will be forced off of their safe, effective and natural cannabis medicine and forced to use dangerous and expensive pharmaceutical alternatives.”

Indeed, the court’s ruling could affect the many Coloradans on probation who believed they were legally using medicinal marijuana.

Conflict Between State and Federal Law

In relying on the supremacy of federal law (the notion that federal law is binding when it conflicts with state law), the appellate court has created confusion in how the state will address the interaction of state and federal law as they pertain to medicinal marijuana. While the state allows for its use, federal law still prohibits the use and possession of marijuana, medicinal or otherwise. In essence, the police and courts are selectively ignoring the supremacy of federal law as it pertains to medicinal marijuana – except, apparently, when a person on probation is involved.

Medicinal marijuana and its use is an evolving area of law in Colorado. For questions or concerns speak with a knowledgeable criminal defense attorney in your area.