Medical Pot Ban Sought for Parolees

January 03, 2008

Mattt Gouras, Associated Press

Montana's Department of Corrections is facing stiff resistance to a proposal to prohibit all people on parole or probation from obtaining medical marijuana.

At a rules hearing Thursday, an attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union of Montana called the proposed ban "flawed in nearly every aspect."

"It's almost as if the Department of Corrections is trying to obliquely regulate medical marijuana," Elizabeth Griffing said. "This is just an overreaching of your authority and jurisdiction."

Montana voters legalized medical marijuana in 2004, and the agency can't unilaterally change state law, advocates argue.

The proposal would also prohibit those on parole or probation from gambling or using alcohol. Sentencing judges already can ban convicts from drinking, gambling or almost anything else if they find a connection between the activity and the crime, Griffing said.

But the agency says it needs to take the extra step of banning certain behavior.

"The proposed rule changes are reasonable, we believe," said Ron Alsbury, Probation and Parole Bureau chief.

Alcohol and drug use causes higher recidivism rates, the agency says. Also, medical marijuana laws have created friction with federal authorities who police the drug, and Alsbury cited the federal stance as a factor in adopting the rule.

The parole bureau can change the proposal based on the comments or move ahead as planned. The Legislature can also step in to review the rule before it is adopted.

There are 572 people in Montana registered to receive medical marijuana, according to the state, which does not track how many parolees are on the list.

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