Pubdate: Fri, 02 Sep 2011
Source: Helena Independent Record (MT)
Copyright: 2011 Helena Independent Record
Author: Sanjay Talwani, Independent Record


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

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

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." 
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