KGOU

Legalizing Medical Marijuana Doesn’t Change Its Status In Prisons

Jul 27, 2018

For Oklahoma inmates, the state’s legalization of medical marijuana will not translate into access in the state prison system.

Marijuana of any type will still be contraband behind bars, mirroring the path other states have taken by partially or fully legalizing marijuana but not allowing it in prisons.

Department of Corrections Director Joe Allbaugh declined to answer questions about inmates’ access to medical marijuana.

“The Oklahoma Department of Corrections does not plan to prescribe medical marijuana due to the proportion of the incarcerated population with addiction, mental health issues and the potential risk for diversion within the prison system,” DOC spokesman Matt Elliott said in a statement. “The agency will continue to monitor the state’s implementation of rules concerning the prescribing and use of medical marijuana.”

He added: “We’re not much interested in discussing beyond this.”

State Question 788 says little about who can get medical marijuana, other than it is allowed for anyone older than 18 who obtains a prescription from a board-certified physician (minors may obtain medical marijuana with the consent of two physicians and a parent or guardian). More specifics are expected as the state’s regulations take effect. Gov. Mary Fallin has signed the rules, but they have been challenged in court.

Thirty-one states and the District of Columbia allow medical marijuana, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

National medical marijuana organizations say penal systems aren’t allowing medical marijuana and don’t have to because they operate under a different set of rules than the general public. 

Oklahoma Watch is a nonprofit organization that produces in-depth and investigative journalism on important public-policy issues facing the state. More Oklahoma Watch content can be found at www.oklahomawatch.org.

Mason Tvert, spokesman for the Marijuana Policy Project, said: “I’m not aware of any correctional facilities that allow inmates to use cannabis even in states where it’s legal for medical purposes.”

While states are skittish about adding medical marijuana to the list of medicines approved in prisons, Tvert said corrections systems could find a way to make it work.

“If medical marijuana is legal in the state and the doctor recommends it to a patient because it will help them treat a condition, then I think there should be some way of allowing it,” he said.

He added that the medication could be administered in a secure, monitored setting.

“That doesn’t mean you need to let the incarcerated person possess a bag of marijuana,” he said.

Paul Armentano, deputy director for the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, offered a similar take. He said he’s not aware of any states that allow medical marijuana in prisons.

“Prisons and jails have their own rules that are very different from what the rules may be on the outside,” he said.