Lycoming judges rule medical marijuana use is a probation violation
WILLIAMSPORT – It is now a violation in Lycoming County if a person on probation uses medical marijuana, even if the individual has an identification card permitting its use.
That was the ruling Thursday by three of the county judges who cited as their reason the federal Controlled Substances Act that makes marijuana use a crime.
At least three other counties – Lebanon, Jefferson and Potter — have by court order or policy prohibited the use of medical marijuana by those on probation.
Those policies and the decision by the Lycoming County judges are enforceable only in the respective counties.
They address concerns that probation officers had on how they could determine if someone with the right to use medical marijuana was not also using the drug for recreational purposes.
Those on federal probation are precluded from using medical marijuana.
The Lycoming County ruling resolves the effort by Gage Wood to modify terms of his probation so he could use medical marijuana because he suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder.
Wood, 25, has been on probation since March 26, 2015, in five different cases, one that involved possession with intent to deliver marijuana and another possession of drug paraphernalia.
Judge Marc F. Lovecchio, who did not participate in the decision, asked the other judges to hear arguments on the issue after finding probable cause Gage had violated his probation by using medical marijuana.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania filed a friend of the court brief on Gage’s behalf claiming the court could not deny his reasonable accommodation of medical marijuana.
It also contended the court cannot be forced to capitulate to federal law and that the state’s Medical Marijuana Act’s failure to exclude probationers implies intent for it to apply to them.
Gage argued the court’s ability to prevent use of a prescription controlled substance is limited and the Medical Marijuana Act states patients will not be subject to arrest.
State Sen. Daylin Leach, D-Montgomery, who authored the medical marijuana bill, told the court in a letter the General Assembly intended for the law to apply to patients serving probation.
The judges said they could not accept as law the assurances of one senator. “Candidly, a clear and unambiguous showing from the Legislature would have been to explicitly address probationers ,” they wrote.
The act prohibits the use of medical marijuana in state prisons and county facilities under contract to house state inmates serving a portion of their sentences on parole or in a community correction program, they pointed out.
Other key aspects of the judges’ opinion include:
The Medical Marijuana Act does not prevent courts from imposing reasonable conditions of probation nor does it obstruct the federal law’s purpose of prosecuting illegal substances.
Given the act contains provisions that specially exclude certain individuals, it appears more logical the Legislature’s intent was to leave the question of probation applicability to the courts.
Not to violate a federal law is a reasonable condition of probation.