Albuquerque inmates’ right to medical marijuana affirmed

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — A state district judge in Albuquerque has ruled this week that the Bernalillo County Metropolitan Detention Center should not penalize medical marijuana patients under its custody or supervision for using the drug.

District Court Judge Lucy Solimon said the order, issued Tuesday, applies specifically to the Metropolitan Detention Center southwest of Albuquerque. Facility spokeswoman Julia Rivera told the Albuquerque Journal that the jail will “follow the law.”

The decision stems from a drunken driving case where Albuquerque resident Joe Montaño, 49, who was convicted and sentenced to 90 days of house arrest in October 2019, was thrown in jail in November 2019 for having medical marijuana as a licensed patient. He was released in January 2020.

Court records show Montaño has had a valid medical marijuana card since 2015.

New Mexico legalized marijuana for medicinal use in 2007 under former Democratic Gov. Bill Richardson. But county attorneys argued that because it’s still illegal federally, Montaño’s use of marijuana was in violation of his agreement to comply with all city, county, state and federal laws.

Democratic state Sen. Jacob Candelaria, who served as Montaño’s attorney, filed a motion in July asking a judge to prohibit the detention center from penalizing inmates with valid medical marijuana cards.

Candelaria said the ruling by Solimon creates a clear precedent that licensed patients must be allowed access to medical cannabis regardless of if they are at home or in a prison cell.

“The law is clear: You must under existing law provide incarcerated persons with the ability to access medical cannabis free from penalty. That’s the law,” Candelaria told the Santa Fe New Mexican.

Bernalillo County Assistant Attorney Daniel Roberson previously argued that medical marijuana laws don’t cover patients who are under post-conviction supervision.

It is unclear whether correctional facilities statewide would voluntarily comply with the order.

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