The Colorado Supreme Court on Nov. 18 ruled unanimously that people on probation may use medical marijuana unless prosecutors can show an exception applies.
In 2017, Alysha Walton pleaded guilty in El Paso County court to driving under the influence and requested permission to use medical marijuana while on probation. During sentencing, she provided her medical marijuana card as well as documentation to prove its authenticity.
However, she did not bring a doctor to testify on her behalf, something the county judge required as a “standing policy,” according to the Supreme Court’s opinion. The judge sentenced Walton to one year of unsupervised probation and prohibited her from using medical marijuana as a condition of probation.
Walton appealed the condition, but a district court upheld the county court’s decision, concluding it had not abused its discretion. By the time the Supreme Court heard the case, Walton had already completed her sentence, so the high court did not reverse the ruling but “disapproved” of the district court’s judgment instead.
“Were we to wait for another case like this one to find its way to us with a defendant still serving her sentence, we might wait in vain. DUI sentences are often shorter than the time necessary for appeal and certiorari review,” the court said, explaining its decision to review the issue in the case, despite it being “arguably moot.”
The Colorado Supreme Court concluded that the state’s probation conditions statute “presumes that authorized medical marijuana use is permissible while a defendant is on probation,” unless certain exceptions apply. Namely, a court may prohibit a defendant’s medical marijuana use if doing so is “necessary and appropriate” to meet the goals of sentencing.
The court went on to say that the burden is on the prosecutor to show why an exception should apply to a given defendant.
Skipping the Constitution Question
One question the court avoided answering was whether prohibiting the use of medical marijuana violated Walton’s rights under the Colorado Constitution.
While the court originally granted cert to review that issue, the justices sidestepped the thorny question by focusing on the state’s probation conditions statute instead.