A victory has been won for inmates at a New Mexico detention center who want access to medical marijuana.

A state district judge in Albuquerque ruled this past week that Bernalillo County’s Metropolitan Detention Center must allow qualifying patients access to medical marijuana.

This could be a big step for other jails and prisons to allow the use of medicinal marijuana for their own inmates.

The ruling came from 2nd Judicial District Judge Lucy Solimon and is connected to a 90-day sentence of house arrest for Albuquerque resident Joe Montaño, who was convicted of drunken driving in 2019.

New Mexico Sen. Jacob Candelaria, D-Albuquerque, who is also an attorney, represented a defendant in the DWI case that led to the decision. Candelaria said he intends to send notice to jails and prisons asking them to comply.

According to Candelaria, Tuesday’s ruling creates a clear precedent that patients whether inmates or not, in jail or at home, must be allowed access to medical cannabis.

“There’s no discretion under the Medical Cannabis Act. You must allow this,” Candelaria said. “While the criminal industrial complex may have pushback or some concerns — take those to the Legislature. Because until such time as the Legislature changes the law, 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.”

Montaño had successfully completed a mental health treatment program through the court and was permitted to serve his jail sentence at home. One of the conditions was that he not use any illegal drugs.

Attorneys for Bernalillo County argued that because it’s still illegal federally, Montaño’s use of marijuana “was a violation of law contrary to his agreement to comply with all city, county, state and federal laws and ordinances.”

Solimon ruled that the ability to use medical cannabis does not apply only to people serving sentences under house arrest or who are on probation. The ruling applies to all incarcerated individuals in New Mexico.

“As a lawyer, it’s not every day that a decision of this import and breadth happens in your career,” said Candelaria. “This is a big one.”

“This is a major victory not only for Mr. Montaño, but for every medical cannabis patient in New Mexico and across the United States,” said Duke Rodriguez, CEO and president of Ultra Health. “This ruling exemplifies the spirit of the Lynn and Erin Compassionate Use Act: that cannabis is medicine and every patient deserves the legal right to access their medicine.”

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