Connect with us

Politics

Missouri Probation Officers Send Patients Back To Prison For Using Legal Medical Marijuana

Published

on

Voters legalized medical cannabis, but some patients are still being incarcerated for it. 

By Niko Vorobyov, Filter

On June 23, 29-year-old Ray Breer walked through the gates of the Western Reception Diagnostic Correctional Center north of Kansas City into the arms of his family.

“My girlfriend, my mom and my son were all waiting for me on the other side of the gate,” he told me over Zoom. “We got yelled at by the guards ‘cuz we’re all stood there, taking pictures….”

There was a lot of catching up to do. He’d missed the birth of his son, having been taken into custody a few weeks before, in February.

And his “crime,” which cost him his liberty? He’s a registered medical marijuana patient, serving probation for… a marijuana charge. He initially got in trouble with the law for a possession charge back in August 2019, and went to prison for a short spell in 2020 after getting kicked out of drug court for smoking joints. In order to stay safe while on probation, he obtained a medical marijuana card, as is his constitutional right in Missouri.

Yet after a pee test came up positive for THC, that was enough for his probation officer to send him to prison. In court, they told him it’s a privilege to be on probation and that in the future, they are most likely not going to offer probation to medical marijuana patients.

Breer was one of many drug-war prisoners in the Show-Me State supported by the Canna Convict Project (CCP), which brought in expert witnesses to try and sway his case.

“Probation and Parole and DOC is not recognizing a patient’s ability to medicate while on supervision.”

“Our mission is to assist our non-violent Missouri cannabis inmates—POWs, we call them—with their exit from incarceration, and assisting them with their re-entry needs,” co-founder Christina Frommer told Filter. “They kind of become family. I create a relationship with all of the POWs, with their families. I buy their children presents. We try and give the whole person care.”

CCP is fighting for the rights of the many impacted patients across the state to be allowed to access their medicine. Even though cannabis has widely recognised medical uses, many Missouri law enforcement and probation officers still view it as the devil’s narcotic, an assumption being challenged in the courts.

“The probation and parole issue here in Missouri is that PNP [Probation and Parole] and DOC [Department of Corrections] is not recognizing a patient’s ability to medicate while on supervision,” Frommer said. “Some of the individuals have really cool probation officers or parole officers, and they’ve been allowed to medicate while they’ve been on supervision, no problem. And others have gone as far as receiving sanctions and gotten put back in prison.”

In November 2018, 65 percent of Missouri voters approved an amendment to the constitution, which states that: “the possession of marijuana … shall not subject the possessor to arrest, criminal or civil liability, or sanctions … provided that the possessor produces on demand to the appropriate authority a valid qualifying patient identification card; a valid qualifying patient cultivation identification card; a valid physician certification while making application for an identification card; or a valid primary caregiver identification card.”

Breer had such a card, on account of his mental health condition and bipolar II disorder. It didn’t help.

It isn’t just those already in the justice system who get in trouble, either. In November 2019, 48-year-old Jamie Wilson was pulled over with his grandson by a Highway Patrol trooper while driving through Daviess County. The officer found 8 ounces of weed in his truck, which was within the limits he was allowed as a card-carrying marijuana patient. But Wilson was arrested for possession and child endangerment. The charges were later dropped, but it goes to show the drug-war mentality that persists in the state.

A Legal Battle Brewing

Canna Convict has identified many more cases of Missourians being locked up for their lawful medication, including those convicted on all sorts of non-drug charges. It is now taking the Missouri authorities to court with the help of lawyer Timothy Intessimone (the case is not being filed on behalf of Breer or Wilson, but another one of Intessimone’s clients).

“My involvement with CCP was after I met Christina and seeing the work her, Joani [Harshman]and Chris [Smith] were doing,” Intessimone told Filter. “I was highly impressed with the dedication and devotion to criminal justice reform, so my office really meshed with the groove of the project.”

Intessimone said his work is motivated by a desire to give back to others, especially those from poorer communities disproportionately impacted by criminalization.

“Civil rights is kind of my wheelhouse … and what the law’s impact is on people that cannot afford attorneys,” he said. “I grew up very, very low-income–roach-infested house, mom working multiple jobs to get her associate’s degree for a better life. The same people that are disproportionately affected … are the same people that may not have a voice to stand up and fight.”

In the United States, marijuana currently lies in a kind of legal purgatory, between a confusing array of state laws, some fully legalized and others less so, and federal law, which remains staunchly prohibitionist. Taking it across state lines remains a federal crime, even if you’re unlikely to run into a DEA checkpoint in the Lincoln Tunnel.

The argument Intessimone will bring before the court is that of states’ rights: If the issue is one of federal law, how are the wishes of Missourians being taken into account?

“Without a doubt, every state that has a medical [marijuana] program had to deal with this in one way or another,” he explained. “And it’s like anything else: You go to Nevada, you can go to a brothel, it’s been voted on by the people in Nevada. Why is the federal court getting involved in what the people in Missouri, or Nevada, or Colorado want to do? We’re dealing with a new, multi-billion dollar industry, and we’re at a point where the federal government says, ‘yeah, you can do it, and we’re not going to come in and stop you from doing it.’ But at the same time, they’re saying, ‘well, you can’t do it.’”

“We’re asking the court to decide and clarify whether he [the client] can lawfully use medical marijuana, with a valid Missouri medical card, while on probation,” he continued. “However, that’s not what the case is really about. The case is more about the Missouri Constitution. It is about whether a state agency, acting under state law, under the state constitution, can punish someone while the amendment plainly states that they cannot be criminally punished under the state constitution.”

Marijuana is still classed as a Schedule I controlled substance by the DEA, with “no currently accepted medical use,” even though it’s known to be efficient in treating conditions including multiple sclerosis and for pain relief. The official stance of the Missouri authorities—when it comes to probation—seems to be in line with the feds.

“The terms of probation and parole vary from person to person,” Karen Pojmann, communications director for the Missouri Department of Corrections, told Filter in an email. “These terms don’t always align with the rights and behaviors exercised by people who have not been convicted of a felony. For example, in Missouri it’s legal for adults to own firearms, consume alcohol, or interact with children. However, someone on probation or parole might be prohibited from doing one or all of these things as part of their conditions. Generally speaking, use of cannabis is prohibited, regardless of whether the person has a medical marijuana card.”

This suggests that cannabis is still seen as a vice that those unlucky enough to fall into the state’s clutches must avoid in order to become law-abiding citizens, rather than a medicine (which it is, according to state law).

The next hearing of the case is set for August 23.

Ray Breer, meanwhile, is still on probation. He’s trying to find work and spending more time with his son.

“He sleeps for a bit then he’s up, and he’s crying, but I still love it,” he said. “I’ve had him almost every day. We went to the pool. I’m being a new father and I’m loving it.”

This article was originally published by Filter, an online magazine covering drug use, drug policy and human rights through a harm reduction lens. Follow Filter on Facebook or Twitter, or sign up for its newsletter.

Kansas City Mayor Files Ordinance To Ban Pre-Employment Marijuana Testing For Most City Workers

Marijuana Moment is made possible with support from readers. If you rely on our cannabis advocacy journalism to stay informed, please consider a monthly Patreon pledge.

Politics

Bipartisan Pennsylvania Senators File Bill To Let Medical Marijuana Patients Grow Their Own Plants

Published

on

A bipartisan group of Pennsylvania senators introduced a bill on Thursday that would allow medical marijuana patients to cultivate their own plants for personal use.

Sens. Dan Laughlin (R) and Sharif Street (D) first announced their intent to file the legislation in November, arguing that it is a necessary reform to ensure patient access by giving people a less costly alternative to buying from dispensaries.

Registered patients who are 21 and older, and who have been residents of the state for at least 30 days, could grow up to six plants in an “enclosed and locked space” at their residence, according to the text of the bill. They would be allowed to buy cannabis seeds from licensed dispensaries

 

In an earlier cosponsorship memo for the new home grow bill, the lawmakers said that letting patients cultivate their own medicine would “help ease the cost and accessibility burdens for this important medicine.”

The new legislation has three other initial cosponsors in addition to Street and Laughlin.

Street had attempted to get the reform enacted as an amendment to an omnibus bill this summer, but it did not advance.

The senators argue that patients in particular are deserving of a home grow option, as some must currently travel hours to visit a licensed dispensary and there are financial burdens that could be alleviated if patients could grow their own plants for medicine.

Late last year, Laughlin and Street also unveiled a separate adult-use legalization proposal that faces significant challenges in the GOP-controlled legislature. And Street is behind another recent cannabis measure to provide state-level protections to banks and insurers that work with cannabis businesses.


Marijuana Moment is already tracking more than 1,000 cannabis, psychedelics and drug policy bills in state legislatures and Congress this year. Patreon supporters pledging at least $25/month get access to our interactive maps, charts and hearing calendar so they don’t miss any developments.

Learn more about our marijuana bill tracker and become a supporter on Patreon to get access.

In the interim, Lt. Gov. John Fetterman (D), who is running for U.S. Senate this year, said one of his key goals in his final year in office is to ensure that as many eligible people as possible submit applications to have the courts remove their cannabis records and restore opportunities to things like housing, student financial aid and employment through an expedited petition program.

Pennsylvania lawmakers could also take up more modest marijuana reform proposals like a bill filed late last year to expand the number of medical marijuana cultivators in the state, prioritizing small farms to break up what she characterized as a monopoly or large corporations that’s created supply problems.

Rep. Amen Brown (D) separately announced his intent to file a legalization bill that he’ll be working on with Sen. Mike Regan (R), who expressed his support for the policy change a day earlier.

Additionally, another pair of state lawmakers—Reps. Jake Wheatley (D) and Dan Frankel (D)—formally unveiled a legalization bill they’re proposing last year.

Philadelphia voters also approved a referendum on marijuana legalization in November that adds a section to the city charter saying that “the citizens of Philadelphia call upon the Pennsylvania General Assembly and the Governor to pass legislation that will decriminalize, regulate, and tax the use, and sale to adults aged 21 years or older, of cannabis for non-medical purposes.”

Gov. Tom Wolf (D) said last year that marijuana legalization was a priority as he negotiated the annual budget with lawmakers. However, his formal spending request didn’t contain legislative language to actually accomplish the cannabis policy change.

The governor, who signed a medical cannabis expansion bill in June, has repeatedly called for legalization and pressured the Republican-controlled legislature to pursue the reform since coming out in favor of the policy in 2019. Shortly after he did that, a lawmaker filed a separate bill to legalize marijuana through a state-run model.

A survey from Franklin & Marshall College released last year found that 60 percent of Pennsylvania voters back adult-use legalization. That’s the highest level of support for the issue since the firm started polling people about it in 2006.

An attempt to provide protections for Pennsylvania medical marijuana patients from being charged with driving under the influence was derailed in the legislature last year, apparently due to pushback by the state police association.

Nebraska Activists Say New GOP Medical Marijuana Bill Is A ‘Poison Pill’ Meant To Detract From Ballot Efforts

Photo courtesy of Mike Latimer.

Marijuana Moment is made possible with support from readers. If you rely on our cannabis advocacy journalism to stay informed, please consider a monthly Patreon pledge.
Continue Reading

Politics

Minnesota Democratic Leaders Preview Marijuana Legalization Plan For 2022

Published

on

Minnesota Democratic leaders are preparing for another push to legalize marijuana this session, with the sponsor of the House-passed reform bill saying he will be reworking the legislation in an effort to build further support—though it continues to face an uphill climb in the GOP-controlled Senate.

House Majority Leader Ryan Winkler (D) and Senate Minority Leader Melisa Franzen (D) discussed the legislative strategy during a roundtable event hosted by the Minnesota Hemp Growers Cooperative on Wednesday.

Winkler said that his bill, which moved through 12 committees before being approved on the House floor last year, is the “product of hundreds of hours of work involving thousands of people’s input, countless hearings and public listening sessions—but it is not a perfect bill.”

“As we look ahead to this session…our goal is to go back and reexamine provisions of the bill,” he said. Licensing structures, public safety and substance misuse concerns are among the issues that lawmakers will be looking at to improve upon the legislation.

“We will be working with our colleagues in the Minnesota Senate,” Winkler added. “We’re interested in pursuing legalization to make sure that the bill represents senators’ priorities for legalization as well.”

The leader said that “any effort this year that would be successful would require Republican support as well.”

But while advocates are encouraged to hear that the House may again vote to pass the legalization legislation, the Senate minority leader tempered expectations about the bill’s prospects in her Republican-run chamber.

“Unfortunately, I don’t think there’s a path to legalization this year in the Minnesota Senate,” Franzen said. “It’s controlled by the Republican party, and they have there’s a few members who are really adamantly opposed to legalization.”

Gov. Tim Walz (D) is supportive of cannabis legalization, and while the broad reform didn’t advance last session, he did sign a bill to expand the state’s medical marijuana program, in part by allowing patients to access smokable cannabis products.

Winkler said on Wednesday that “it was because of the work done” by advocates on legalization that put pressure on Senate Republicans to advance that legislation.

Another cannabis issue playing out in Minnesota concerns CBD. The state agriculture department and pharmacy board have increased enforcement against the sale of the non-intoxicating cannabinoid in recent months, prompting calls for legislative reform.

Winkler said that the political dynamics around legalization that led to the expansion of the state’s medical cannabis program will be “a template for how we will address challenges with CBD this year.”

“My staff is working very closely with advocates, working with senators, working with other House members to get in a repair for the CBD industry, and I have every confidence that we will be able to do that with your help,” he said.

A poll conducted by Minnesota lawmakers that was released last year found that 58 percent of residents are in favor of legalization. That’s a modest increase compared to the chamber’s 2019 survey, which showed 56 percent support.

Winkler said in 2020 that if Senate Republicans don’t go along with the policy change legislatively, he hopes they will at least let voters decide on cannabis as a 2022 ballot measure.

Rhode Island Governor Includes Marijuana Legalization And Expungements In Budget Request

Photo courtesy of Philip Steffan.

Marijuana Moment is made possible with support from readers. If you rely on our cannabis advocacy journalism to stay informed, please consider a monthly Patreon pledge.
Continue Reading

Politics

Nebraska Activists Say New GOP Medical Marijuana Bill Is A ‘Poison Pill’ Meant To Detract From Ballot Efforts

Published

on

A Republican Nebraska senator introduced a bill on Thursday that ostensibly seeks to legalize medical marijuana in the state—but activists have raised concerns that the restrictive measure may be an attempt to subvert an effort to pass even broader patient protections on the 2022 ballot.

Sen. Mike Groene (R) filed the legislation, which would allow certain patients to buy and possess cannabis oils, pills and up to two and a half ounces of flower at a limited number of dispensaries. Smoking or inhaling marijuana would be banned, however, as would making edibles—so it’s not clear how patients would consume the flower they could possess.

But the main problem is, the bill would maintain that cultivating marijuana in Nebraska for commercial or personal use is illegal, meaning dispensaries wouldn’t even have a legal means of obtaining cannabis products for patients.

The bill is also severely restrictive in terms of who would qualify for cannabis. It would only permit access to people with stage IV cancer, uncontrolled seizures, severe muscle spasms caused by multiple sclerosis or muscular dystrophy or a terminal illness with less than a one year probable life expectancy.

It’s being backed by the Nebraska chapter of the prohibitionist group Smart Approaches to Marijuana (SAM), leading some advocates to suspect that the lack of cultivation provisions is designed to be a “poison pill” while misleading voters into thinking that there is a good faith effort to legalize medical cannabis legislatively.

“This appears to be a political stunt,” Jared Moffat, state campaigns manager at the Marijuana Policy Project, said in a press release. “Opponents of medical cannabis know there is a viable campaign to put medical cannabis on the ballot, and they know Nebraskans will overwhelmingly support that effort.”

“This is an attempt to take our focus away from that,” he said. “But it won’t succeed because it’s clear that this proposal is not a good faith effort to find some middle ground on the issue.”

The bill comes as Nebraskans for Medical Marijuana (NMM) continues to work to collect signatures for a pair of medical cannabis legalization initiatives that advocates hope to place on the November ballot. They have until July to collect 87,000 valid signatures to qualify each of their complementary measures.

Activists with the group collected enough signatures to qualify a medical marijuana legalization measure for the 2020 ballot, but the state Supreme Court invalidated it, finding that the proposal violated the single-subject rule for citizen initiatives.


Marijuana Moment is already tracking more than 1,000 cannabis, psychedelics and drug policy bills in state legislatures and Congress this year. Patreon supporters pledging at least $25/month get access to our interactive maps, charts and hearing calendar so they don’t miss any developments.

Learn more about our marijuana bill tracker and become a supporter on Patreon to get access.

Now this legislation from Groene is entering the mix for the 2022 session. And SAM Nebraska co-chair John Kuehn told The Lincoln Journal-Star that it’s “a good faith effort and we are willing to look at this as an acceptable alternative to creating a marijuana industry in the state of Nebraska.”

While advocates aren’t necessarily buying that argument given that it would authorize dispensaries without providing the ability to cultivate marijuana products, some like NMM co-chair Sen. Anna Wishart (D) are willing to work with the senator to get the bill into a more acceptable shape for patients.

“It would be the status quo,” Wishart said. “I want a safe system, but there are practical realities patients are living with every day. No one wants a system that doesn’t work.”

Notably, Groene did support a procedural motion to advance Wishart’s more expansive medical cannabis bill last session.

Jane Kleeb, chair of the Nebraska Democrats, pounced on the restrictive nature of Groene’s bill and said it makes it “not easy or feasible for most” to obtain a medical cannabis recommendation from a doctor.

Shari Lawlor, a member of Nebraska Families for Medical Cannabis, said that the group is “grateful that Sen. Groene recognizes the importance of medical cannabis,” but as drafted, “this is a medical cannabis bill with no cannabis.”

“It envisions a system with dispensaries but no farmers or cultivators who actually produce the medical cannabis that patients need,” she said. “And since patients are not allowed to cultivate medical cannabis themselves under this proposal, there is effectively no way for patients to get the relief they need.”

Gov. Pete Ricketts (R) is no fan of legalization. He partnered with SAM Nebraska on a recent ad urging residents to oppose cannabis reform in the state. Given the organization’s support for this new GOP proposal, there’s some suspicion that he might back it to give the appearance that the administration isn’t deaf to calls for reform by voters.

Advocates aren’t going to be deterred by the bill’s introduction. They will be moving forward with the complementary medical cannabis initiatives in hopes to getting the issue to voters.

The campaign deliberately chose to take a bifurcated approach because of the state Supreme Court invalidation over the single-subject rule.

One of the statutory initiatives would establish legal protections for patients and doctors around cannabis, while the other would allow private companies to produce and sell medical marijuana products.

Lawmakers attempted to advance medical cannabis reform legislatively last year, but while the unicameral legislature debated a bill to legalize medical marijuana in May, it failed to advance past a filibuster because the body didn’t have enough votes to overcome it.

Wishart and NMM co-chair Sen. Adam Morfeld (D) announced in late 2020 that they would also work to put the question of legalizing marijuana for adult use before voters in 2022. But for now their focus appears to be on the medical cannabis effort.

For what it’s worth, Nebraska’s attorney general argued in an opinion in 2019 that efforts to legalize medical marijuana legislatively in the state would be preempted by federal law and “would be, therefore, unconstitutional.”

Rhode Island Governor Includes Marijuana Legalization And Expungements In Budget Request

Marijuana Moment is made possible with support from readers. If you rely on our cannabis advocacy journalism to stay informed, please consider a monthly Patreon pledge.
Continue Reading
Advertisement

Marijuana News In Your Inbox

Support Marijuana Moment

Marijuana News In Your Inbox

Marijuana Moment