‘Meeting rather than litigation’: former DA wins medical cannabis access for Warren County probationers

A former district attorney recently secured a clearer pathway to medical cannabis access for probationers in Warren County, not through litigation, but rather through meetings, conversations, and education.

Under the previous policy, individuals serving probation in Warren County were required to obtain court approval to use medical cannabis, even if they possessed a valid state-issued permit.

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County Probation Department Director Bob Iusi told NY Cannabis Insider that “quite a few people” followed the process. But, as attorney and former Essex County DA Julie Garcia discovered, not everyone received approval.

Garcia saw this first-hand after asking the court to strike a condition prohibiting medical pot use for one of her clients experiencing chronic pain in 2020. The motion was denied after the DA’s office objected.

“My client went probably over a year without using his medicine,” Garcia said. Neither she nor county officials could estimate how many probationers had been affected by the policy over the past nine years.

The experience prompted Garcia to work with Warren County officials to revise the process, contesting that the policy did not adhere to state law. She views the issue as a regulatory misunderstanding, rather than anything nefarious.

“I believe that they were interpreting the statute as far as recreational marijuana goes and then applying that to medical cannabis,” said Garcia.

She elaborated that, unlike adult-use cases, certified medical patients were not subject to court approval while serving probation.

Two years of discussions led to a February 27 agreement between Garcia, members of the probation department and the courts.

“Basically, the resolution would be that we would not have to access the court,” said Iusi. The decision will take immediate effect in Warren County Court and all other local courtrooms.

“I think we’re probably in a better place,” said Iusi.

“We’re all on the same page with regard to what the law is and what we’re supposed to do,” Garcia said.

She added, “It was a huge victory, and it was done by meeting rather than by litigation,” and said she feels that more issues could get resolved this way.

She credited the media, notably February coverage from NEWS10, for playing a role in building public awareness of the issue and pressuring officials to take action.

“That’s why they finally switched,” she said.

New York City-based cannabis attorney Jeffrey Hoffman, whose firm focuses heavily on the criminal justice aspects of legalization, helped arrange Garcia with the TV station after first hearing from her about the situation in Warren County in January.

He said the recent change helps end a practice which runs counter to both the Cannabis Law and a directive from the Department of Corrections and Community Supervision.

“I think it’s great that we were able to help them get right by the law and that they seemed amenable in getting there,” Hoffman said.

Advocates praised the developments as well.

“If they’re on probation, that means they served their time and have done the crime,” said Nikki Lawley, a medical cannabis advocate in New York.

Lawley said that cannabis education like this – instructing lawmakers and local regulators on varying adult-use and medical cannabis laws – is paramount as the market legalizes. She added that lawmakers could benefit from hearing the critical perspective of patients.

“I feel like they’re so removed from real life that they don’t understand the struggles of being a medical patient in the state of New York,” Lawley said.

Garcia added that education includes the legal community.

“I don’t know how to get the word out there other than to speak to my colleagues and say, ‘Hey, make sure your clients know that if they have a card, they’re gonna be able to use their medicine,’” she said.

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