While medical cannabis has been widely accepted over the past ten years or so, with 34 states and U.S. territories permitting access to clean, green medicine, there’s still plenty about the justice system that needs to change when it comes to cannabis.
As more and more states propose bills to legalize and establish medical programs in 2021, a new, more cannabis-friendly administration takes power in the White House, and public opinion of cannabis as medicine shifts even further in the right direction, American citizens are still going to jail in mass for cannabis-related offenses.
The Legal Problems Faced By Cannabis Users
According to the ACLU, non-recreational states spend more than $3,613,969,972 enforcing outdated and racist laws that disproportionately affect people of color and non-violent offenders. In fact, due to the outdated and non-scientific classification of cannabis as a Schedule 1 drug, cannabis of any kind remains federally illegal and those who use or possess it are subject to serious legal penalties. Cultivation and possession of cannabis, a substance that’s legal and sold by the government for recreation in 11 states and medically in 34, still carries jail time.
To further compound the problem, people using cannabis illegally are often doing so because they don’t have access to their state’s medical cannabis program, if the state even has one. While, thankfully, we’ve seen places all around the world softening their stances on cannabis, including some of the most influential politicians in this country, there are still some glaring gaps in logic that prevent good people from getting access to their medicine.
Colorado’s Legal Ruling In Favour of Medical Cannabis
One of those major gaps, however, is on the way to be resolved thanks to a recent legal decision in the Centennial State of Colorado. The state Supreme Court reaffirmed a 2015 law that gives parolees access to medical cannabis as long as not smoking cannabis isn’t a condition of their release, like not drinking would be for someone who was on parole after serving time for DUI.
This decision is important not just for those in Colorado who want to ensure legal and easy access to medical cannabis, but also to set a precedent for other legal cases all over the U.S.
For example, while both the states Arizona, California, and Oregon all have legal decisions that reaffirm allowing parolees with valid medical cannabis cards to continue to have access to and use their medicine, patients in other states are fighting to be able to do the same consistently.
A great example of the inconsistency of access to medical cannabis while on parole is the state of Pennsylvania. In the Keystone state, there’s no consistency in the rules county by county. If someone living in Pittsburgh or Philadelphia, for example, were on parole they would be able to use medical cannabis. Other counties, like Lebanon county, don’t allow for medical use by parolees. That inconsistency is why the PA ACLU is in the process of challenging for patient access.
In states that don’t have an existing legal precedent due to a court ruling, like in Colorado, Oregon, California, and Arizona, the choice of whether or not to drug test parolees is often left to county court judges or even individual parole officers as to whether or not a patient will be allowed to use their medicine without risking going back to prison. While some of these officials only drug test for parolees whose offense was drug-related in the first place, the lack of higher court rulings creates a power-vacuum in a criminal justice system that is still biased against cannabis federally.
What Can Be Done To Fix The Problem?
When it comes to fixing that inconsistency and giving patients who rely on medical cannabis to treat or ease the symptoms of very serious illnesses access, there are a few answers to that riddle.
The simplest and most-often discussed solution would be full federal decriminalization and legalization of cannabis, as it would be with so many of the issues surrounding the cannabis industry. Legalization at the federal level would unshackle the medical and money-making potential of cannabis in North America, opening the doors for billions of dollars to be generated, international legal cannabis importing and exporting, and ensuring patients have easy and affordable access to the medicine they need.
The more tedious, expensive, and time-consuming option, however, is the approach that’s happening now. Legal decisions by state-level higher courts in medically legal states like Pennsylvania and Colorado will chip away at the current legal precedent against cannabis. Therefore, decision by decision, just like we’re seeing with recreational legalization, eventually the dam will break.
Hopefully, this decision in Colorado and the pending court case in Pennsylvania will be the next two decisions that help set a legal precedent that benefits the right of medical patients, no matter their legal situations.