A Pittsburgh medical marijuana patient was jailed last week after he tested positive for the drug and was unable to provide proof of his medical certification to an Allegheny County judge.
Samson L. Bailey Jr., 24, spent 10 days in jail after Common Pleas Court Judge Mark V. Tranquilli revoked his $1,000 bond on April 10. The judge ruled that the THC — the active ingredient in marijuana — in Bailey's system was a violation of his bond, which prohibited criminal activity.
Although Bailey told the judge he used cannabidiol oil and was under a physician's care, neither he nor his attorney, Joseph S. Otte, were able to produce Bailey's medical marijuana identification card in court or proof of the card in subsequent legal filings during the next week.
Bailey remained in jail until his doctor provided proof of his medical certification on Thursday, prompting the judge to order Bailey's release. He was freed Friday.
"When they put me in handcuffs I was really confused, I didn't understand what was going on," Bailey said. "That was the hardest 10 days of my life."
The case shows how heavily the courts and law enforcement must rely on medical marijuana patients' identification cards to determine whether a person is a legal user of the drug, and suggests patients must take a proactive role in their own legal protection as the court system adjusts to the paradigm shift of legal medical marijuana.
"The only thing that will protect a medical cannabis patient is that card," said attorney Patrick Nightingale, a partner at Cannabis Legal Solutions, who is not connected to the case.
In Pennsylvania, law enforcement officers cannot access the state's database of medical marijuana patients. The only way a police officer can immediately verify a patient's status as legal user is by viewing their medical marijuana ID card.
April Hutcheson, a Pennsylvania Department of Health spokeswoman, said Friday that officers could also call the department to verify a patient's status, but said there is currently no dedicated phone line or established process for law enforcement to do so.
"I don't know that it's been an issue," she said. "This is a new program and there will be things that come up that are unique."
Although state records show Bailey was granted a medical marijuana card in February, he said Friday that he never received it and believes it may have been sent to an incorrect address. He said he does not smoke marijuana and instead relies on cannabidiol oils, which are legally available even without a medical marijuana card. People using the legal oils have been known to test positive for THC in some cases, Mr. Nightingale said.
Bailey said the oils improve his appetite, which allows him to take his medications without pain.
Bailey's situation began last year when he was arrested and charged with credit card fraud.
According to court records, Bailey was accused of using fraudulent credit cards to make three reservations in his own name at Painting with a Twist, a business which offers group painting classes.
After the credit card companies refused to pay for the charges, the store's manager tracked down Bailey and matched his name and photographs of him taken during the classes.
Stacy Lane, Bailey's physician, said her patients have been able to get their medical marijuana for only about a month in Pittsburgh. She said that already two patients have run into problems with the legal system or with their employers.
"This is ridiculous," she said. "The law has to recognize that these people have these certified conditions."
Medical marijuana patients are required by law to keep their identification cards on them when they have medical marijuana in their possession, but are not required to keep the card on them at all times.
Lane said some of her patients feel the card is too valuable and difficult to replace to carry around 24/7.
"It's like carrying around your passport," she said.
However, because law enforcement officers in Pennsylvania rely solely on the card, Nightingale said he suggests patients keep the card on them, especially if they are under any sort of court supervision or anticipate undergoing a drug test.
"That is the only proof and protection you have," he said.
Tom Gross, executive director of the Pennsylvania Chiefs of Police Association, said his organization is fielding a variety of questions from law enforcement agencies about medical marijuana.
"I hear from police chiefs that they still have a lot of questions about how you verify the cards, whether the person has a fraudulent card, the rules around transport," he said. "So we are still at the beginning stages of our level of awareness as far as law enforcement. It's new territory."
Shelly Bradbury: 412-263-1999, email@example.com or on Twitter @ShellyBradbury. Paula Ward: firstname.lastname@example.org, 412-263-2620 or on Twitter @PaulaReedWard.