By SANJAY TALWANI
A Lincoln woman on probation is asking a judge to consider letting her continue using medical cannabis despite a new state law that prohibits people on probation from having the state-issued medical marijuana cards.
If she succeeds, it could give about 1,000 medical marijuana cardholders who are under Department of Corrections supervision a chance at keeping or obtaining the cards despite the medical marijuana overhaul passed by the legislature this year, Senate Bill 423, which says “a person may not be a registered cardholder if the person is in custody of or under the supervision of corrections or a youth court.”
Hiedi Fields, also known as Hiedi Hanford, “has a well-documented history of chronic pain and spasticity” and a poor response to narcotics, her lawyer, Chris Lindsey, said in a motion in Helena District Court. She’s also on probation related to a deceptive practices felony back in 2001.
She’s asking for a court hearing on whether she can still be allowed to use the plant. Lindsey is representing another cardholder, Lief Erickson, in a similar case in Flathead County.
Lindsey acknowledges the direct language of SB 423 could be tough to overcome. But District Judge James Reynolds, in his June 30 order granting part of the preliminary injunction sought by the Montana Cannabis Industry Association against implementation of the law, said challenges by probationers to that ban should be made on a “case-by-case” basis. That’s where Lindsey is hoping the judge will look,
Lindsey also notes that Reynolds, in his order, said marijuana “is a lawful means of seeking one’s health” under the Montana Constitution’s guarantee of the right of residents to “seek their safe, health and happiness in all lawful ways.”
Lindsey says he understands that people on probation don’t have all the same rights as others, but that sick people who happen to be on probation shouldn’t face a blanket ban.
“Whether or not they have a medical need shouldn’t be based on their criminal history,” he said.
Ron Alsbury, the state Probation and Parole Bureau chief, said people under supervision who had the cards before SB 423 went into effect have been allowed to keep them, but will not be able to renew them when they expire. Since the card lasts one year, the supervision system should be free of cardholders by next July.
Meanwhile, the bureau estimates that 9 percent — or even more — of its charges have medical marijuana cards. With nearly 8,700 people on probation or parole and more than 10,000 in community settings altogether, that could be about 1,000 with access to medical marijuana, which is a concern to the bureau.
Alsbury didn’t comment on the recent legal motions, but the bureau has said that medical marijuana use compromises its ability to supervise the offenders.
“Offenders who use marijuana typically are polysubstance abusers who abuse alcohol and other illegal drugs or prescription medicines,” Alsbury wrote in an affidavit in the case before Reynolds. “Using a mind-altering substance such as marijuana typically leads to the use and abuse of other substances such as alcohol, methamphetamine and prescription drugs.
“From my experience in the field of probation and parole, I know that substance abuse by offenders leads to probation violations and new felony offenses, including driving under the influence, assault, partner-family member assault, aggravated assault.”
He also said medical marijuana use makes it more difficult for probation and parole officers to keep offenders from associating with illegal drug distributors and that offenders are more likely than people without criminal histories to turn their access to marijuana into a profit opportunity.
Those bad examples are just the reason people like Fields should be allowed to make their cases on an individual basis, Lindsey said.
“I sympathize with their position, because they’re used to smarmy, grinning criminals saying, ‘Ha-ha, I’ve got a card,’” said Lindsey, himself a medical marijuana patient and a former caregiver.
Fields, who has been an advocate for people using medical marijuana, said that patients are suffering under the new rules.
“This really isn’t about me, this is about SB 423 overturning the will of the people,” she said. “It’s just a crime what’s happened to patients. That’s where the real crime is.”