A state district judge in Albuquerque ruled this past week that inmates in New Mexico get their right to medical marijuana. The news comes after advocates reached a new victory on the marijuana front and it could have far-reaching implications for jails and those incarcerated. 

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Prisons must comply with the ruling

A state district judge in Albuquerque ruled that Bernalillo County’s Metropolitan Detention Center must now comply with giving patients who qualify access to medical marijuana. 

At first, there were doubts about whether jails would follow through voluntarily. However, state Sen. Jacob Candelaria, D-Albuquerque, who represented an incarcerated man in the DWI case, said he will send a notice to prisons around the state urging them to comply. 

The ruling was issued last Tuesday. One of its most important aspects is that it paves the way so that patients are given access to medical pot, whether their sentence is from home or in a prison cell. 

What does the law say?

Sen. Candelaria said that the Medical Cannabis Act shows no discretion, and therefore, the motion should be allowed. “The law is clear: You must, under existing law, provide incarcerated persons with the ability to access medical cannabis free from penalty,” stated the attorney. 

The ruling that started everything

The ruling came from 2nd Judicial District Judge Lucy Solomon, in the case of Albuquerque resident Joe Montaño, who received a 90-day sentence for drunk driving back in 2019. 

After a successful mental health treatment program, the court allowed him to serve his time at home. One of the conditions, amongst many, was that he wasn’t allowed to use illegal drugs. 

New Mexico ahead on medical marijuana

New Mexico had the first medical cannabis law enacted by any state when in 1978 a bill allowed for medical use of pot, but only through a federally-approved research program. Medical marijuana has been legal in New Mexico since 2007, when then- Gov. Bill Richardson signed it into law.

Decriminalization of the drug was just approved in 2019. However, cannabis is still illegal on a federal level. 

Bernalillo County argued that since weed is still legal under federal law, Montaño’s use of marijuana would be a violation of law. 

Because of this, Montaño was put in jail for more than 30 days for “violating the terms of his house arrest.” He had started a refrigeration repair business but almost lost everything due to the violation.

Legal battles with other jails and prisons

Sen. Candelaria filed a motion seeking an order that allows medical marijuana use in jail back in July. He’s also stated that he’s prepared to launch legal battles against jails and prisons that don’t allow patients to use medical pot. 

He added that making access to medical marijuana for inmates more difficult would only result in “more litigation”. 

The largest medical marijuana company in New Mexico, Ultra Health, praised the ruling. They said that it wasn’t just a “major victory” for Montaño, but for medical cannabis patients all over the state and the country.

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