One of the first big wins for cannabis in 2021 comes out of New Mexico when District Court Judge Lucy Solimon ruled that inmates have a right to medical marijuana too. This is a case that has the potential to change policy not only in the state of New Mexico but across the U.S. For decades people have been thrown in jail for marijuana use, so this landmark decision sets the stage to make the plant’s medicinal use a right that even inmates are allowed.
The New Mexico Case Which Argued for Inmates to be Able to Use Medical Marijuana
Back in 2019 Joe Montaño was arrested on a DWI charge for drunk driving. Once convicted, Montaño completed a mental health treatment program through the courts and was allowed to serve his 90-day jail sentence on house arrest. During that 90 days he continued to use medical marijuana as he ordinarily would but when it was discovered he was jailed for over 30 days for violating the terms of his house arrest.
Montaño was represented in this case by attorney and Democratic state Senator Jacob Candelaria, who argued that the state’s Medical Cannabis Act protects all medical marijuana users’ right to their medicine. Attorneys for Bernalillo County argued that Montaño’s marijuana use was a violation because the plant is still illegal at a federal level.
Medical marijuana has been legal in New Mexico since 2007 and last year it was amended to include the Lynn and Erin Compassionate Use Act. Judge Solimon’s ruling earlier this month favors Montaño and clarifies that medical marijuana is legal for inmates who qualify as well. More importantly, the ruling specifies that this applies to those on probation, house arrest or in prison.
New Mexico’s Landmark Case Concluded Inmates Can Use Medical Cannabis
We’ll let the victorious lawyer/Senator deliver his argument in his own words:
“There’s no discretion under the Medical Cannabis Act. You must allow this,” Candelaria said. “While the criminal industrial complex may have pushback or some concerns — take those to the Legislature. Because until such time as the Legislature changes the law, the law is clear: You must under existing law provide incarcerated persons with the ability to access medical cannabis free from penalty. That’s the law.”
While the ruling applies directly to Bernalillo County’s Metropolitan Detention Center it is unclear whether other correctional facilities statewide will follow suit right away. Senator Candelatia intends to send notice to jails and prisons asking that they comply. However, he is also prepared to take it to court if any decide to appeal the judge’s ruling. This case can now be used as legal precedent.
“As a lawyer, it’s not every day that a decision of this import and breadth happens in your career,” Canteldatia said. “This is a big one.”
A Long Overdue Change for Medical Marijuana’s Place in Prisons
People have been incarcerated for marijuana possession, use, and growth for generations now. In fact, there are still roughly 40,000 Americans incarcerated today over cannabis. Now, a judge is saying that inmates in New Mexico have a right to medical marijuana, even when they are in jail.
“This is a major victory not only for Mr. Montaño, but for every medical cannabis patient in New Mexico and across the United States,” Rodriquez, CEO and president of Ultra Health, said in a statement according to Santa Fe New Mexican. “This ruling exemplifies the spirit of the Lynn and Erin Compassionate Use Act: that cannabis is medicine, and every patient deserves the legal right to access their medicine.”
This court ruling has the potential to change the landscape for medical marijuana law across the country. It is likely to be challenged in New Mexico by other institutions, but Senator Candelatia seems prepared to fight it out for the long haul.
“Because until such time as the legislature changes the law, the law is clear: You must under existing law provide incarcerated persons with the ability to access medical cannabis free from penalty. That’s the law,” he said according to the Marijuana Moment.
Candelatia even went as far as to say that government agencies should have to pay for the medical cannabis that is consumed in jails and prisons, no different than any other medications provided.
While it’s a long shot to assume we’ll see medical cannabis being shipped into prisons for inmate use across the country any time soon, it’s not too hard to remember the future as it was before this case. This latest court ruling sets the stage for a huge step forward in cannabis policy reform across the nation, with New Mexico leading the way when it comes to allowing medical marijuana in prisons.