Updated on August 26, 2020.
Medical content reviewed by Dr. Joseph Rosado, MD, M.B.A, Chief Medical Officer
In the United States, medical marijuana occupies a grey area both legally and morally. Some states consider it legal, but the federal government doesn’t. While some people consider medical marijuana a legitimate medication, others don’t. If you’re on probation and take medical marijuana, it’s understandable if you’re confused.
You don’t necessarily have to give up your medication, but everyone has a different situation. Whether you can keep your medicine depends on a variety of factors like your state, your lawyer and your situation.
The Tricky State of Medical Marijuana Laws in the United States
It helps to understand the division between federal and state medical marijuana laws if you want to have an idea of your legal situation. Patients can take their medicine legally in some states and situations, while those in other states can’t. There’s a lot to consider when you look at medical marijuana laws.
At the federal level, marijuana is still an illegal drug. In fact, the federal government considers it a Schedule I drug, or a drug with no medical use and high dependency potential, despite that we have evidence to the contrary — but that’s a subject for a different blog post. On a federal level, you can receive serious punishment for marijuana-related charges.
On the state level, medical cannabis laws vary. Now, many states have medical marijuana programs that let patients use cannabis medicine. But patients from the other states can’t take medicinal cannabis lawfully.
To further complicate things, every state that allows medical marijuana has a different policy. Applications, qualifying conditions, patient liberties and other factors vary by state. For example, a patient could qualify in one state, but they might not in another state.
According to the Constitution, federal law trumps state laws, meaning you can get in trouble for medical marijuana if federal officials decide to prosecute you. Some judges may prioritize federal law over state law, or they could interpret the state law as more important than federal law. Many times, it just varies by situation.
Can I Still Take My Medication While on Probation?
Considering the legal technicalities and complications going on in the previous section, there is no solid yes or no answer to this question. Whether you can use medical marijuana during your probation depends on your state, the legal officials who work with you and your charges.
If you live in a state that permits medical marijuana use during probation, you can use your recommendation and medical marijuana card to prove you can legally medicate. Research whether your state has protections for patients like you. An example of a state that offers protections for medical marijuana patients on probation is Arizona.
Court Cases for Patient Protections
Since probation laws regarding medical cannabis can be unclear, some patients go to court to fight for their right to medicate. A favorable ruling can create a precedent that can be used in future cases. Such cases have gone well in certain states, but not in others. Check out these three examples:
Michigan: On behalf of Dennis Magyari, attorney David Rudoi is trying to make a case for letting people on probation medicate with marijuana. He has convinced judges to lift restrictions in 30 other cases, but this time, he’s going to the Court of Appeals, where a ruling could make a precedent. As of December 2017, no updates have occurred.
Massachusetts: Danny Vargas was charged with violating his probation for using medical cannabis. His lawyer, Michael Cutler, argued that state law protects patients who use drugs under a doctor’s recommendation. Unfortunately, the Judicial Court did not consider his recommendation a valid document supporting his innocence, upholding his sentence.
As you can see, whether the defendant can successfully make their case mainly depends on the court’s opinion. While one judge could consider a recommendation legitimate, another might not.
How to Know Where You Stand
So, after learning about all these laws, how do you figure out how they affect you specifically? You might only have to do a little online research, or you might have to consult a lawyer. It depends on whether your state has already established protections and its stance on other marijuana-related topics.
If you live somewhere that already offers protections, make sure to read them carefully and follow them. Read all the related laws and regulations, too. In some cases, you might have to get legal counsel if the rules are especially confusing.
In states without protections, you must tread carefully. States like Massachusetts have previously dismissed cases for patients on probation, but other states might have more open judges. Sometimes, you can work with folks like your probation officer or social worker to see if you can legally medicate. Keep physical documentation of your recommendation and medical marijuana card to show to any relevant officials.
Some folks won’t succeed when they try to convince officials they have the right to use medical marijuana while on probation. If you’re willing and able, you may want to hire a marijuana-friendly lawyer and go to court. When you go to court, bring your recommendation and medical marijuana card. Research whether there were any previous cases in your state you can use as precedent for your case.
Get A Medical Professional’s Perspective
While they don’t have the expertise of a legal professional, experts from the medical marijuana industry may have experience with patients on probation. Some doctors certified for marijuana medicine may have an idea of what the legal climate in your state looks like. A dispensary staff may also have some knowledge related to medical marijuana and probation.