Under the leadership of the Obama administration, the federal government has generally been on the wrong side of medical marijuana policy, restricting access to cannabis for seriously ill patients. Now, there is a new hope for patients like Terri Bowers, a former paroled prisoner who uses cannabis oil to treat her chronic pain. The Obama administration has ruled that Bowers may receive medical marijuana through the federal program, but the state of Michigan is demanding proof of her illness before allowing her to receive her medicine. Bowers has already been denied medical marijuana by the state despite the federal government’s approval, and now her case is headed to federal court.
The full title of this blog post is this: Parolees Should Have Access to Medical Cannabis. Still with me? Good. We’re about to talk about marijuana, and it’s not going to be pretty. You know we’ve always been a little skeptical of the medical benefits of marijuana. Now, we think it’s time to listen to the science.
As a cannabis coach, I speak to many people who are looking for information on cannabis to improve their health and lifestyle. These interviews allow me to learn first-hand how current cannabis policies affect their lives, both positively and negatively. For many patients, especially in states where access to cannabis has expanded in both the medicinal and recreational markets, the position is now better than before. However, there are other patient groups that remain underserved due to national cannabis policies and/or criminal histories. In interviews, I learned that one of these populations are parolees – men and women who have been paroled from prison. In many jurisdictions, people on parole do not have access to medical cannabis because they have a criminal record. Often judges and probation officers work together to ensure that parolees do not use cannabis, even if they have an approved medical marijuana card. I think this policy is one of the injustices perpetuated in the current criminal justice system. In this article, I discuss some of the existing rules that determine whether parolees have access to medical cannabis in their area. I’ll also explain why I think we should extend the right to legal cannabis to men and women on probation.
Medical cannabis and parole in the US
As might be expected given the patchwork of cannabis laws in the United States, the guidelines that determine whether parolees can legally use medical cannabis vary from state to state. In some states, parolees can use cannabis with a medical-authorization card. Washington State, for example, has had such a policy since 2014. Other states, including Michigan, have only recently extended this right to their paroled residents. Michigan law finally extended access to medical cannabis to parolees in February of this year. But in other areas, people on probation do not have access to medical cannabis. In Pennsylvania, for example, a judge ruled in 2020 that Pennsylvanians were prohibited by law from using medical cannabis. He cited the federal ban on cannabis and the lack of medical consensus on its effectiveness as reasons for his decision. This shows that proponents of the criminal justice system still view cannabis as a stigma. They see cannabis as a drug, something to take away from people, instead of seeing cannabis for what it is….. a drug that helps many patients feel better. I hope that in the future our leaders will reconsider their long-standing negative attitudes toward cannabis and realize that denying parolees access to cannabis does more harm than good.
Opening access correlates with rehabilitation
The right to use medical cannabis on a conditional basis is, of course, also important for the individuals themselves. But it is also valuable to our society as a whole. Consider the trauma that someone on parole has likely experienced; they have spent time in prison and experienced the trauma associated with being in prison. Shouldn’t we allow trauma survivors to use this plant and heal their past and present? And in general, wouldn’t it be a good thing for our society if the people who live in our communities had everything they need to keep their minds and bodies healthy? Because when people are healthy and prosperous, they can show up, along with their families and their communities. If you’ve read other articles on this site, you know that for many Americans, cannabis is the medicine they rely on to stay healthy, balanced, sane and happy. That’s why I advocate free access to cannabis, especially in medical cases. It is essential that this access be extended to parolees. America should be a place where everyone has the right to pursue happiness. People on parole have earned that right. It is high time to make access to medical cannabis mandatory for parolees who are working hard to reintegrate into society and move on with their lives. Heather Dagley is a blogger and cannabis coach from Tacoma, Washington. After changing her own life with cannabis, Heather now writes about how cannabis can help others live happy and healthy lives. As a cannabis coach, she also helps her clients overcome pain, anxiety/depression, chronic stress, burnout or difficult life transitions. Their goal is to give people an honest and informed perspective on cannabis so that they are equipped to begin their own cannabis healing journey.
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