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October 8, 2019

HARRISBURG - The American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania filed a class-action lawsuit today challenging the Lebanon County court’s policy prohibiting people who are on probation and who are registered medical marijuana patients from using their medication. The lawsuit was filed in Commonwealth Court on behalf of three people who are on probation and who are registered with the state Department of Health as certified medical marijuana patients.

“Medical marijuana has made all of the difference in improving my quality of life,” said Melissa Gass, who lives with epilepsy and is one of the patients challenging the policy. “When I started using cannabis to treat my epilepsy, I went from having multiple seizures a day to having one every few months. Medical marijuana has been a lifesaver for me. This policy is a cruel blow.”

Because the ACLU’s legal challenge is a class action lawsuit, a ruling in favor of the three patients will help them and similarly situated people under court supervision in Lebanon County. According to the ACLU complaint, there are more than 60 people in Lebanon County who are under some form of community supervision and who are registered medical marijuana patients.

“Lebanon County is endangering our clients’ well-being,” said Reggie Shuford, executive director of the ACLU of Pennsylvania. “Medical marijuana gives our clients’ their lives back and helps them manage their daily challenges.”

Pennsylvania passed a law in 2016 allowing people with serious medical conditions to use medical marijuana after registering with the state and obtaining a doctor’s certification. The law protects patients from arrest, prosecution, or penalty and prohibits them from being denied any right or privilege for using marijuana.

“The plain language in the medical marijuana law shows that the legislature intended to protect all patients, including those on probation,” said Witold Walczak, legal director of the ACLU of Pennsylvania. “Judges may not agree with the Medical Marijuana Act, or may not support people using marijuana for any reason, but they must follow the law.”

Other counties that consider the use of medical marijuana to be a violation of community supervision include Elk, Forest, Indiana, Jefferson, Lycoming, and Northampton. The two largest counties in Pennsylvania, Philadelphia and Allegheny, recognize exemptions for medical marijuana use for people who are on community supervision, such as probation, parole, and accelerated rehabilitative disposition, or ARD.

A copy of the complaint filed today in Commonwealth Court is available at this link. Lawyers on the case include, in addition to Walczak, ACLU-PA Senior Staff Attorney Sara Rose and ACLU-PA Criminal Justice and Poverty Attorney Andrew Christy. 

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