Pa. county sued over ban on pro­ba­tion­ers us­ing med­i­cal pot

The Morning Call - - LOCAL NEWS - By Mark Scol­foro

HARRISBURG – Three med­i­cal mar­i­juana pa­tients on Tues­day chal­lenged a Penn­syl­va­nia county’s pol­icy that peo­ple on pro­ba­tion and other forms of court su­per­vi­sion may not use the drug, even if they are in the state reg­istry.

The ACLU of Penn­syl­va­nia filed a law­suit in Com­mon­wealth Court that seeks to stop a pol­icy im­posed last month in Le­banon County.

The plain­tiffs ar­gue the pol­icy con­tra­dicts le­gal-im­mu­nity pro­vi­sions in the state’s 2016 med­i­cal mar­i­juana law and are ask­ing for a halt to the pol­icy while their case pro­ceeds. They are seek­ing class ac­tion sta­tus, and Amer­i­can Civil Lib­er­ties Union lawyers said they may ex­pand the lit­i­ga­tion to cover sim­i­lar poli­cies in some other coun­ties.

“More than sixty peo­ple with se­ri­ous med­i­cal issues in Le­banon County must now de­cide whether to dis­con­tinue their law­ful use of a med­i­cal treat­ment that safely and ef­fec­tively al­le­vi­ates their se­ri­ous med­i­cal con­di­tions, or risk re­vo­ca­tion of their pro­ba­tion and pos­si­ble in­car­cer­a­tion,” said the law­suit against the Le­banon County ju­di­cial district, which in­cludes the county pro­ba­tion of­fice. “It is a choice be­tween risk­ing se­vere health con­se­quences or go­ing to jail.”

The Le­banon County ju­di­cial district is be­ing rep­re­sented by lawyers for the Ad­min­is­tra­tive Of­fice of Penn­syl­va­nia Courts, which de­clined comment.

ACLU lawyer Vic Wal­czak said there are sim­i­lar poli­cies in place in sev­eral other coun­ties, but not in Philadel­phia or Pitts­burgh.

“Many of the coun­ties, we don’t know,” Wal­czak said at a news con­fer­ence. “So if there are peo­ple out there who can tell us that other coun­ties are not com­ply­ing with the law, we’d like to hear from them as well.”

Le­banon County President Judge John Tyl­walk signed the Sept. 1 pol­icy that said mar­i­juana re­mains il­le­gal un­der fed­eral law, and that the court and pro­ba­tion de­part­ment “should not know­ingly al­low vi­o­la­tions of the law to oc­cur.”

It gave med­i­cal mar­i­juana pa­tients un­der court su­per­vi­sion a month to dis­con­tinue use.

In a Sept. 16 letter to Tyl­walk, ACLU lawyers warned that the pol­icy will re­sult in peo­ple go­ing with­out treat­ment or be­ing forced to use other drugs, such as opi­oids. The law­suit notes that the county’s new pol­icy does not pre­vent those on court su­per­vi­sion from us­ing opi­oids, an­tipsy­chotics and ”other med­i­ca­tions that pose a sig­nif­i­cant risk of harm.”

One of the plain­tiffs said she uses med­i­cal mar­i­juana to treat epilepsy and has suf­fered seizures with greater fre­quency since be­ing com­pelled to fol­low the pol­icy. She is on pro­ba­tion for a 2016 sim­ple as­sault, the law­suit said.

An­other plain­tiff said she needs the drug for post-trau­matic stress dis­or­der, ab­dom­i­nal pain and nau­sea and is on pro­ba­tion for mar­i­juana pos­ses­sion.

The third plain­tiff, who uses med­i­cal mar­i­juana for back pain, is on pro­ba­tion for mar­i­juana pos­ses­sion and driv­ing on a sus­pended li­cense, the law­suit said.

Penn­syl­va­nia’s med­i­cal mar­i­juana law per­mits le­gal use of the drug for a range of med­i­cal con­di­tions, fol­low­ing cer­ti­fi­ca­tion from a doc­tor. It says pa­tients can­not be “sub­ject to ar­rest, pros­e­cu­tion or penalty in any man­ner” for the law­ful use of med­i­cal mar­i­juana.

“If there are peo­ple out there who can tell us that other coun­ties are not com­ply­ing with the law, we’d like to hear from them as well.”

— Amer­i­can Civil Lib­er­ties Union lawyer Vic Wal­czak

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