The American Civil Liberties Union is taking on a Pennsylvania county over a new policy that bars people with state medical marijuana cards to use the drug if they were on probation.
In a lawsuit filed this month on behalf of several petitioners, the state chapter of the ACLU asserts that those rules issued by the Lebanon County, Pennsylvania violate state law. Pennsylvania legalized medical marijuana in 2016, and the state permits its use for patients suffering from roughly two dozen different medical conditions.
The county’s court system and probation department announced last month that the new policy would take effect on October 1. One of the petitioners in the suit filed is Melissa Gass, a 41-year-old woman who uses medical cannabis to treat grand mal seizures from her epilepsy.
She is also on probation in Lebanon County stemming from a 2016 arrest for simple assault following an altercation she had with her husband. Gass says she stopped using marijuana upon learning of the county’s new policy, going a month without it and suffering a sharp uptick in seizures as a result.
“Medical marijuana has made all of the difference in improving my quality of life,” she said in an ACLU press release. “When I started using cannabis to treat my epilepsy, I went from having multiple seizures a day to having one every few months. Medical marijuana has been a lifesaver for me. This policy is a cruel blow.”
According to the suit, Gass “had for years been successfully self-medicating with marijuana to control her seizures,” and that marijuana had “allowed her to dispense with the prescriptions that caused adverse mental health symptoms.”
But Gass stopped using marijuana after her probation began in 2018 and, according to the suit, immediately resumed suffering from seizures. She obtained a medical marijuana card in February, but was told by a probation officer last month that, due to the policy change, she would have to stop using medical marijuana.
Reggie Shuford, executive director of the ACLU of Pennsylvania, said that the county is “endangering our clients’ well-being.”
““Medical marijuana gives our clients’ their lives back and helps them manage their daily challenges,” Shuford said.
Federal Law vs State Law
County officials have defended the policy change on the grounds that marijuana remains illegal under federal law. But Pennsylvania ACLU Legal Director Witold Walczak disagrees.
“The plain language in the medical marijuana law shows that the legislature intended to protect all patients, including those on probation,” Walczak said in the press release. “Judges may not agree with the Medical Marijuana Act, or may not support people using marijuana for any reason, but they must follow the law.”
The ACLU’s class-action lawsuit seeks a preliminary injunction.