DENVER, CO — The Colorado Court of Appeals is backing an Arapahoe County prosecutor who argued that a registered medical marijuana patient can not smoke marijuana while on probation because it violates federal law.
The defendant at the center of the ruling is Leonard Charles Watkins, who in 2010 was reportedly on probation in Arapahoe County following a 2005 conviction involving sexual assault on a child. As a condition of his probation, Watkins was to “not violate any laws” or “use or possess any narcotic, dangerous or abusable substance without a prescription.”
Neither Watkins’ plea agreement nor the written conditions of his probation expressly addressed the use of marijuana for medical purposes.
Five months after Watkins was sentenced, his probation officer filed with the court a “Special Report and Order,” which stated that “defendant has acquired a certificate from the State of Colorado for the medical use of marijuana” and requested “further direction from the court.”
At the time, an Arapahoe County District Court judge had sanctioned Watkins’ use of MMJ, much to the dismay of District Attorney Carol Chambers.
The District Attorney filled an appeal filed a motion to reconsider the order approving Watkins’ use of marijuana for medical purposes. In the motion, she argued that, because possession or use of marijuana – even for medical purposes – is a federal offense, therefore conflicting with the conditions of Watknis’ probation.
On Thursday, the Colorado Court of Appeals agreed, stating that the Arapahoe County District Court judge erred in allowing Watkins to use medical marijuana during his probation. In their ruling, the court said that when people are prohibited from committing another offense while on probation, that includes federal crimes, and that the state constitution doesn’t exempt probationers from complying with federal law.
Colorado marijuana reform activists at Legalize 2012, one of the groups behind Colorado’s campaign to legalize marijuana for recreational use, describe the most recent ruling as “a huge blow to medical marijuana patients statewide, many of whom will be forced off of their safe, effective and natural cannabis medicine and forced to use dangerous and expensive pharmaceutical alternatives.
“Previously, probation departments across Colorado had wide discretion into whether or not a patient on probation would be allowed to use their medicinal cannabis,” Legalize 2012 said in a statement. “With the Court of Appeals ruling, the ability of probation officers to address individual patient situations on a case-by-case basis has been eliminated and replaced with a statewide ‘Zero Tolerance’ policy for medical cannabis use and probation.”