Pubdate: Thu, 09 Feb 2012
Source: Denver Post (CO)
Copyright: 2012 The Denver Post Corp


Probation Is a Sentence, and Criminals Don't Have the Same Rights As 
Everyone Else - Including the Right to Smoke Prescribed Pot.

Can a criminal on probation be barred from smoking pot - even if he 
has a state certificate granting him the right to medical marijuana? 
The state Court of Appeals says the answer is yes, and we think it 
made the right call.

The three judge panel's unanimous conclusion is important in part for 
its own sake, given the number of people on probation and the 
likelihood that Leonard Charles Watkins, the defendant in this case, 
is hardly the only one with a chronic condition that qualifies him 
for medical marijuana.

But the opinion is also important because Watkins, sentenced to six 
years' probation for felony sexual exploitation of a child, is only 
the most recent in a growing line of medical marijuana users who seem 
to believe their pot use trumps every other legal and social 
consideration - including safe driving and workplace sobriety.

As the appeals court points out, everyone on probation in Colorado 
agrees that he "will not violate any laws" and "will not use or 
possess any narcotic, dangerous or abusable substance without a 
prescription," as well as refrain from using "any mind-altering or 
consciousness-altering substance" without a prescription.

As if that weren't clear enough, state law also insists that courts 
"shall provide as (an) explicit condition of every sentence to 
probation that the defendant not commit another offense."

Notice that this mandate doesn't refer only to state or local 
offenses. It says "offenses," period. And that means that offenses 
against federal law, which bars marijuana use, are undoubtedly included.

It's also worth pointing out that a "physician's certification does 
not constitute a 'written lawful prescription' as required by the 
terms of [Watkins'] probation," the court concluded.

We think Colorado lawmakers had good reason to insist that people on 
probation stay sober and follow the law - all laws. And we're also 
reminded that another state appeals court panel, writing last year, 
concluded that an employer could fire a worker who tested positive 
for marijuana he had used off the job for a medical condition. The 
marijuana amendment "was not intended to create an unfettered right 
to medical use of marijuana," two of three judges on that panel wrote.

And long before that ruling, as the appeals panel in Watkins recalls, 
the U.S. Supreme Court decreed that "a court granting probation may 
impose reasonable conditions that deprive the offender of some 
freedoms enjoyed by law-abiding citizens."

Colorado law puts it another way: Probation is a "privilege, not a right."

We're all for the responsible use of medical marijuana, but that does 
not mean its use takes precedence in every setting. Probation is a 
sentence, and criminals do not enjoy equivalent rights with everyone 
else. They also have special obligations - which in Colorado preclude 
them from using medical marijuana.
- ---
MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom