Medical marijuana takes center stage as briefs are released in PA Supreme Court case

January 29, 2020 | Geoffrey Marshall

By Jamie Bittner for Fox 43

LEBANON COUNTY -- Briefs are due to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court today in a case that will decide if people on probation will or will not be allowed to use medical marijuana in Lebanon County.

The State Supreme Court is ready to hear a challenge brought by the ACLU on behalf of 3 people against the 52nd Judicial District of Lebanon County. The challenge concerns a policy (which is now on hold) that blocks people on probation from using medical marijuana even if they have a card. The policy was put in place by President Judge John Tylwalk. The ACLU filed the suit on behalf of Melissa Gass, Ashely Bennett and Andrew Koch.

In its court briefing, the ACLU included the following:

  • A request that the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania rule that the policy contradicts the commonwealth’s Medical Marijuana Act and to permanently end its enforcement
  • An amicus brief (friend-of-the-court brief) written by the Society of Cannabis Clinicians, the Association of Cannabis Specialists, the Drug Policy Alliance, and Americans for Safe Access Foundation, represented by attorneys Tom Wilkinson and Abby Sacunas of the law firm Cozen O’Connor

Read the ACLU court brief here
Read the ACLU amicus brief here.

At the time of this article, FOX43 is still waiting for Lebanon County's 52nd Judicial Court to release its brief.

The ACLU hopes the PA Supreme Court's ruling will have implications across the state.

“The Supreme Court can clarify this issue for counties all over the state and guarantee that people on probation are not punished simply for lawfully using medical marijuana to treat their disabilities,” said Andrew Christy, an attorney for the ACLU of Pennsylvania. “Until this issue is resolved, patients throughout the commonwealth are left in limbo, putting their health at risk and their lives on hold.”

Arguments have not yet been scheduled in front of the PA Supreme Court, but lawyers hope for a decision this year.

FOX43’s Jamie Bittner broke the story on Melissa Gass, who is on probation in Lebanon County and who lives with epilepsy. Gass joined Ashley Bennett and Andrew Koch in the lawsuit when it was filed in October.

The Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania decided to transfer the case to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, explaining the decision in this court filing.

The 52nd Judicial District of Lebanon County responded to the lawsuit earlier this month. It defended the medical marijuana policy in part by stating, "the Judicial District promulgated the Policy after the Office began to experience disruption in probation services and persistent difficulty supervising probationers and parolees who use medical marijuana."

“Additionally, drug testing for illicit use of marijuana is also rendered meaningless if an individual has a prescription for the legal use of medical marijuana as the laboratory is unable to discern between legal and illegal strands of marijuana,” said the Judicial District.

The Judicial District adds in its response, the Board of Judges enacted the policy after careful review of FDA research, which does not recognize medical marijuana as a treatment for medical conditions. The district adds, the review of factors also included an evaluation of safety concerns for the community and determination of substance abuse treatment options for probationers as some have providers that will not treat anyone who has a medical marijuana card because of the risk of relapse.

Additionally, the Judicial District points to probation rules, which states people on probation cannot use any mind/mood altering chemical/substance and that people on probation must comply with all municipal, county, state and federal criminal laws

Medical marijuana has been legal in Pennsylvania since 2016. But, the federal government still views it as illegal and a Schedule I drug.

What is a Schedule I drug?

Read Lebanon County's probation policy.

Read more about the ACLU Lawsuit here.

Read the full response from the 52nd Judicial District to the ACLU lawsuit here.

Follow the story of Melissa Gass & the Lebanon County court from the beginning when she spoke first exclusively to FOX43.

The story of Melissa Gass.

Melissa Gass rallies at the Capitol.

ACLU announces lawsuit against 52nd Judicial District, Lebanon County.

Case heads to the PA Supreme Court

See all court postings regarding the Gass, Bennett & Koch, et al. v. 52nd Judicial District:

JANUARY 29
Brief of petitioners
Reproduced recordrecord

JANUARY 28
Amicus brief

JANUARY 7
Order granting application for extension

OCTOBER 30:
Per Curiam Order

OCTOBER 23:
Memorandum Opinion

OCTOBER 17:
Answer to Application for Special Relief

OCTOBER 11:
Supreme Court Briefing Schedule

OCTOBER 11:
Transfer To The Supreme Court

OCTOBER 9:
Application For Emergency Relief

OCTOBER 9:
Brief ER Relief

OCTOBER 8:
Petition For Review



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