Darrell Schmidt suffers from anxiety and PTSD. He’s also on parole. But his court-granted supervised release is in jeopardy, because he uses medical marijuana to treat his mental illness. Despite his state authorization to possess and consume medical cannabis in Minnesota, Schmidt’s parole officer threatened to revoke his parole over his use of the drug, effectively denying him access to his medication. Now, attorneys representing Schmidt are suing the Minnesota Department of Corrections over the denial. And they hope the case will set a precedent for future parolees who utilize medical cannabis treatments legally.
When Darrell Schmidt saw a doctor about his anxiety and PTSD, he received a prescription for an anti-depressant. But after experiencing severe side-effects—a common problem with pharmaceutical anti-depressants—he asked his physician about using medical cannabis as an alternative. With his doctor’s recommendation, Schmidt registered with Minnesota’s medical cannabis program. Shortly thereafter, he began treating his diagnosed mental health problems with marijuana.
Parolees have to meet strict requirements to maintain the degree of freedom afforded by supervised release. Those requirements include routine drug screenings, including tests for THC, the main psychoactive compound in cannabis. Knowing he would have to submit to drug tests, Schmidt informed his parole officer Jason Pauly about his authorized medical cannabis use.
Rather than acknowledge Schmidt’s right to access medicine to treat a diagnosed illness, attorneys say officer Pauly threatened to revoke Schmidt’s parole. Schmidt’s attorneys say that the threat means Pauly unlawfully prevented him from using his medical cannabis registration, and they’ve launched a civil suit against the Minnesota Department of Corrections to prove their case in court.
The first hearing in Schmidt’s civil suit against the Minnesota DOC will take place on March 26. Schmidt’s attorneys say that they tried to resolve the matter out of court, but to no avail. Patrick Casey, a lawyer with the firm representing Schmidt, says the firm tried to talk to the Department of Corrections as well as the Attorney General’s office. Schmidt even said he was aware of a handful of other parolees who have not had their access to medical marijuana denied. “It’s really just an executive branch that is choosing to violate a state statute,” said Casey.
So far, the Minnesota DOC hasn’t issued any comment about the pending civil suit. But they’re pointing to a policy prohibiting parolees’ use of any Schedule I controlled substance, including marijuana.
In other words, another lawsuit stemming from the contradiction between federal and state law is making its way through the courts. Each case is crucial, setting legal precedents that can influence the outcome of future cases. In this case, Casey hopes a successful civil suit will protect all other parolees authorized to use medical cannabis from losing their supervised release. “The question here is about doctor/patient relationship,” said Casey. “And that the state is interfering with the people’s right to choose the medication that they receive.”
Darrell Schmidt’s lawsuit doesn’t just highlight the ongoing conflicts between federal and state drug laws, either. It also shows how cannabis, even when and where it is legal, is still used to criminalize people, to threaten them with incarceration, and to stigmatize mental illness. It is not DOC policy to revoke a supervised-release if a parolee takes prescription opioids, or any other medication. But “because we’re talking about marijuana,” Casey said, “the DOC is not willing to change their policy.”
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