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Using Doctor-Prescribed Marijuana Could Send Some People Back to Prison

Melissa Gass is a wife and a mother of five children who suffers from seizures as a result of a car crash when she was 10 years old. The seizures occur weekly, sometimes daily. She suddenly feels a throbbing pain in the back, left side of her brain, and then the next thing she knows, she is waking up face down in the dirt — or in an intensive care unit — covered with her urine and feces. Often, someone has injected diazepam gel into her rectum to keep her alive.

But in 2016, the state of Pennsylvania legalized medical marijuana, and Gass, at age 42, obtained a doctor’s certification for it in February 2019. She put a dot of cannabis oil in a spoonful of peanut butter three times per day, and her seizures stopped almost entirely.

But in September, her Lebanon County probation officer told her that due to a new county court policy, she could go to jail if she didn’t stop using the cannabis oil. (Gass is on probation because back in 2016, she was treating her symptoms with a mixture of prescription medication and alcohol when she hit her husband of 20 years, and the state prosecuted her.)

Gass is now the lead plaintiff in a lawsuit by the ACLU of Pennsylvania challenging the court rule in Lebanon County that prohibits parolees and probationers from using their prescribed marijuana. According to the ACLU, at least a half-dozen counties in Pennsylvania have similar policies.

Marijuana for medical use is legal in 33 states. And in 11 states, people age 21 and over may smoke it for recreational use. But in many of those same states, drug testing for those on probation and parole remains the rule, and those individuals may be sent to prison for using any marijuana. Fortunately for Gass, the Lebanon County rule has been put on hold while her case is pending, and she may continue using her prescribed marijuana. 


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