BERKS COUNTY, Pa. – The American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania has filed a lawsuit on behalf of a United States Air Force veteran and the Pennsylvania Cannabis Coalition to challenge policies in the county courts in Berks County that prohibit individuals from participating in treatment court programs as long as they use medical marijuana to treat their serious medical conditions.
Damon Monyer is a decorated combat veteran of the Iraq War who suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder (“PTSD”) and severe chronic pain as a result of his service. Medical marijuana gives Mr. Monyer the ability to control the triggers for his PTSD and manage his physical pain without the use of addictive pain medications. Treating these disabilities with medical marijuana has allowed him to regain some normalcy in his life.
Despite the significant benefits that medical marijuana affords Mr. Monyer and other veterans, Berks County maintains two policies that make such individuals choose between treating their serious medical conditions and participating in treatment court programs. The first policy prohibits medical marijuana users from participating in Mental Health Treatment Court and Veterans Treatment Court.
The second policy allows those participating in Drug Treatment Court and DUI Treatment Court to use medical marijuana only if a patient can prove to a judge that their use of marijuana is borne of a medical necessity—even though patients can only register with the state as patients and use medical marijuana if it is first recommended by a doctor to treat a serious medical condition.
“The medical benefits of marijuana are undeniable and give hundreds of thousands of Pennsylvanians the ability to treat their serious medical conditions without having to rely on addictive medications like opioids or other treatments that are less effective,” said Stephen Loney, senior supervising attorney at the ACLU of Pennsylvania. “The Medical Marijuana Act and state Supreme Court precedent are not open for interpretation by individual county courts. The law is crystal clear: the Medical Marijuana Act ensures that they do not face discrimination for their use of medical marijuana, and they cannot be denied the privilege of participating in court programs like treatment courts.”
The counties’ policies violate Pennsylvania’s 2016 Medical Marijuana Act. In 2020, the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania unanimously ruled in a case from Lebanon County, Gass v. 52nd Judicial District, that individuals under court supervision are “patients” under the Medical Marijuana Act and entitled to broad immunity from arrest, prosecution, or the denial of any right or privilege based solely on their use of medical marijuana. In that case, the Supreme Court said that lower courts cannot deny probation to medical marijuana users nor force them to prove a medical necessity for its use.
"The Pennsylvania medical marijuana program exists today because our state legislators wanted veterans and others to have access to this critical plant medicine,” said Jamie Ware, president of the board at the Pennsylvania Cannabis Coalition and senior vice-president of legal, regulatory, and government affairs at Holistic Industries. “Specialty courts should comply with the state law –and the will of the state legislature– and allow patients access to the medicine they need."
Mr. Monyer and the Pennsylvania Cannabis Coalition are represented by counsel from the ACLU of Pennsylvania and the law firm Hamburg, Rubin, Mullin, Maxwell & Lupin P.C.
You can read the full lawsuit at aclupa.org/Monyer.