Updated on June 28, 2021.
Medical content reviewed by Dr. Joseph Rosado, MD, M.B.A, Chief Medical Officer
A felon is someone who has committed a serious crime. In common law, such a person would have served a minimum jail term of one year. With the legalization of medical marijuana in more than half the states in the U.S., many people are wondering if people with felony records will be able to access cannabis medicine.
The truth is, the laws regulating access to medical marijuana vary from state to state. So, the residents of each state must study their local regulations and ask their doctor if they’re qualified to get medical marijuana to treat their condition.
Still, her is a brief description of the situations in various states that explicitly allow or disallow felons to get medical and even recreational marijuana.
Felons in Arizona Can Get Medical Marijuana
Arizona has relatively liberal medical marijuana laws. In fact, unlike most legal states where citizens can only get a recommendation from their physician, Arizona laws allow residents to get a prescription for medical cannabis.
But felons who have served jail terms because of drug possession are also allowed to have access to medical cannabis. Criminals can have access to it if they have a diagnosed medical condition that permits them to use medical marijuana legally. This means the following people can get medical marijuana after they receive certification from a licensed doctor:
Felons on probation for drug-related offenses
The laws in Arizona show a lot of sympathy for people who are sick. The state considers the fact that many debilitating illnesses like multiple sclerosis are very painful, and cannabis is one of the best options for alleviating the pain.
In Arizona and other states like New Mexico, when felons or people on probation are not allowed to take medical marijuana, they can appeal the decision in court. Some judges refuse to interfere with the patient-doctor relationship. They feel that if the doctor believes it is necessary, they shouldn’t interfere with that decision.
The current regulations in Arizona don’t allow felons to work at marijuana dispensaries or act as caregivers to someone who has a medical cannabis card. However, patients who have received a prescription from a licensed doctor can gain access to marijuana regardless of their previous convictions. The health services department and the office of the state’s attorney general are working out new restrictions that will make it more difficult for felons to have access to the drug.
Illinois Does Not Allow Felons to Get Medical Marijuana
To have access to medical marijuana in the state of Illinois, patients need to have their fingerprints scanned and go through a background check before they can receive their medical marijuana registry card. The full set of fingerprints will be run through the FBI’s database. The prints will be destroyed after the process is complete and the results are confirmed. The law does not allow any disclosure of the purpose of the checks.
If the background check shows an applicant has a conviction for a drug crime in the state or any part of the country, they will not be allowed to get a card as patient or caregiver. However, it seems applicants who have their records cleared under the provision for first-time offenders will be qualified to get their medical marijuana card. If they aren’t allowed to get a registry card for medical marijuana, they can take the state department of health to court.
The law regulating the use of medical marijuana in Illinois bars those who have been convicted of a drug felony from obtaining a medical cannabis card. However, the regulations allow the department to use their discretion to approve a medical marijuana card when the patient’s conviction was directly connected with possession and use of cannabis for medical purposes. This is provided the objectives are covered by the law.
Recreational Marijuana Is Now Available to Ex-Cons
In states like California, Oregon and Colorado where recreational marijuana has been legalized, efforts are being made to clear previous criminal charges that have been decriminalized by the new legislation.
California’s Marijuana Law Allows Felons to Enjoy Clean Records
The state of California has had a medical marijuana law for more than 20 years. This allowed people to register and get the drug strictly for medical use. But after passing Proposition 64, Californians are not only free to start enjoying recreational marijuana, but misdemeanors such as having less than one ounce of weed have been decriminalized. Felonies like transporting and selling marijuana are now reduced from charges that carry long jail terms to mere misdemeanors.
Proposition 64 has made a path available for nonviolent offenders including current inmates, parolees and ex-convicts, allowing them to file a petition to adjust or completely clear their criminal records. So, in addition to enjoying recreational marijuana, these groups can start enjoying many of their lost privileges, such as:
Working a government job
Getting a gun license
Serving as a member of a jury
Owning a cannabis growing business
The law gives non-violent offenders a second chance to enjoy a new life. Their past conviction will no longer be used against them when authorities conduct background checks.
Marijuana advocates expect the California law will be a model for other states where residents can have recreational marijuana. The law allows those who are serving sentences for activities that are either now legal or are subject to less severe penalties in the new law to be re-sentenced.
Those who have completed their prison sentences could have their convictions expunged. However, inmates who were jailed for non-violent marijuana crimes in states like Colorado still find it more difficult to get the court to clear their criminal records, even after the legality of cannabis has changed.
Learn More About Medical Marijuana Laws
Currently, most of the legal states have strict laws concerning ex-convicts and felons. But in the states where recreational marijuana has been legalized, it’s possible for some criminals to have access to both medical and recreational marijuana. Browse MarijuanaDoctors.com to learn more about medical marijuana legislation in the United States.