Medical Marijuana and Probation Conditions Restricting Drug Use in New York

The 2018 case of People v. Stanton, 60 Misc. 3d 1020, 80 N.Y.S.3d 888 (N.Y. Co. Ct. 2018), sets a New York standard for probationers who rely on medical marijuana for pain management, holding that individuals on probation for a non-drug related offense may use medical marijuana during their probationary period even if the initial conditions of their probation barred the use of illicit drugs.


Can an individual on felony probation for a non-drug related offense, the terms of which require them to abstain from using alcohol or any illicit substances, amend their probationary sentence to allow for the use of prescribed medical marijuana?


An individual on felony probation for a non-drug related offense may be allowed to amend their probationary sentence to allow for the use of prescribed medical marijuana, so long as they obtain the prescription from a licensed physician, they are not found with any marijuana aside from the prescribed dose, and they continue to abide by any other rules set out by their probationary sentence.


 In this case, the court ruled that an individual on probation for a non-drug related offense in New York may be allowed to use prescribed medical marijuana during their probationary period regardless of conditions that require them to abstain from using illicit drugs. The court looked to outside state precedent to fill the gap in New York’s Public Health Law regarding this issue, since no New York precedent had been set due to the rather recent legalization of medical marijuana. New York Public Health Law §3369 outlines the protection given to individuals who are prescribed medical marijuana, stating that a “certified patient” is protected from arrest, prosecution, or penalty in any manner that is solely related to their medical marijuana usage. Id. at 1022. A certified patient is defined as someone who is diagnosed by a registered practitioner as having a “serious condition,” and treating the condition primarily with medical marijuana is a substantial benefit to them versus an alternative method or past treatment options. Id. The individual’s medical diagnosis must fall under one of the categories as defined by the Public Health Law in order to qualify for a medical marijuana prescription.

In 2011, Vincent Stanton pled guilty to Criminal Sexual Act in the second degree, a felony charge. He was sentenced to incarceration as well as a ten-year probationary sentence, which included conditions that prohibited him from consuming alcohol or illicit drugs in any form. In 2017, several years into his probation, Stanton was severely injured in a motorcycle accident. He suffered broken bones and underwent extensive hospitalization and rehabilitation, however he continued to suffer chronic pain from his injuries. Initially, Stanton was prescribed Percocet, a strong narcotic with side effects that include delirium. Stanton felt that the medication was impairing his daily functioning, so his orthopedist recommended that he apply for the New York State Medical Marijuana Program to explore medical marijuana as an alternative treatment for his pain. He was approved and began using medical marijuana as prescribed. In December 2017, Stanton’s probation officer found two grams of marijuana, a violation of his probation conditions. As a result, Stanton filed a motion to request that his conditions be modified to allow him to continue using the medical marijuana for pain management.

Jurisdictions where marijuana has been legalized have differed on their approach regarding whether to allow a probationer to use medical marijuana during their probation period. The Arizona Supreme Court ruled that under the Arizona Medical Marijuana Act (AMMA), a certified medical marijuana patient cannot be denied use of the drug as a condition of their probation. Id. at 1024. Arizona’s highest court also went a step further in holding that the AMMA cannot bar a probationer who has been convicted of a drug offense from using medical marijuana as a condition of their probation. The court applied the AMMA broadly, ruling that no matter their conviction, a probationer who relies on medical marijuana for pain management should be entitled to their right to use for such a purpose.

Montana’s Supreme Court took a similar stance, holding that a probationer cannot be barred from using medical marijuana as a basis of their probationary conditions, because the denial of the drug would violate the Montana Medical Marijuana Act, which grants qualifying patients the right to use medical marijuana in specified quantities. Id. at 1025. Montana and Arizona’s rulings reflect the broadest side of the spectrum, so long as the probationer is a certified medical marijuana patient, and they abide by all state laws regarding usage.

Other jurisdictions have put a cap on how far they are willing to allow medical marijuana usage for probationers who were convicted of drug-related charges. Maine, California, and Michigan generally have ruled that if a probationer was convicted of an offense that “bears a logical relationship to potential drug use,” they can be denied or restricted the use of medical marijuana. Id. The California court’s argument to support this stance is that by allowing a probationer who has a history of drug-related crime to use medical marijuana, they will be exposed to a higher risk of recidivism and future drug use. Additionally, since probation sentences are imposed to rehabilitate a defendant and protect society from further criminal acts, the court argued that allowing a drug offender to utilize the very thing that led to their conviction would go against the goals of probation.

The New York Court took both these outside state’s rulings and the specific defendant’s circumstances into consideration and concluded that since Stanton was convicted of a non-drug related offense and has no drug-related priors, his probation conditions should be amended to allow for the use of medical marijuana. Stanton is also a qualified patient of medical marijuana under New York’s Public Health law and denying him usage of medical marijuana would likely do more harm than good, since he would need to instead manage his pain with Percocet, a highly addictive narcotic.


The ruling in this case sets a precedent for an issue that had not been explored previously in New York. After exploring how other states that have legalized medical marijuana treat the issue at bar, the New York court held that a defendant should be allowed to amend their probation conditions to allow for the use of medical marijuana so long as their initial conviction was not for a drug-related offense. The probationer would still need to abide by any marijuana-related state laws as well as all other conditions of their probation.


  1. This ruling comes from a County Court; while the decision is precedential in the sense that it dealt with a problem that a New York court had not yet confronted, a higher New York court could very well reverse the decision of this court or come to a different conclusion that would trump this court’s holding.
  2. The New York court did not stray far from what other states had decided in terms of allowing a probationer to use medical marijuana despite conditions that barred the use of drugs. They did not confront the issue as liberally as Arizona and Montana, whose courts applied the ruling to all probationers, no matter their conviction.
  3. The court was swayed by the defendant’s physician’s testimony (who was an expert witness) which argued that Percocet, the defendant’s alternative option for pain management, was much more high-risk than medical marijuana. The doctor cited a study from Blue Cross Blue Shield which found that 8.3 out of every 1000 members became addicted to prescribed opioids.
  4. The court made it clear that any possible offenses that could result from medical marijuana usage, such as driving under the influence of marijuana, would be allowed as a condition of defendant’s probation.

Sydney Cantor
New York Law School | + posts

Sydney is a first-year law student at New York Law School. Sydney is interested in the regulatory scheme surrounding cannabis law and the growing cannabis market.