CHEYENNE -- People who legally obtain medical marijuana in other states are not exempt from criminal prosecution for drug possession in Wyoming, the state Supreme Court has ruled.
The court unanimously ruled this week in the case of Daniel J. Burns of Boulder, Colo., who was arrested in March 2009 in Laramie County on a felony drug possession charge after being caught with more than a pound of marijuana in his vehicle.
Colorado is one of 16 states and the District of Columbia that allow medical marijuana use or make special concessions on penalties for marijuana users with a medical condition.
But medical marijuana advocates say it's important for marijuana users to understand that they can't possess the drug in states where it is illegal.
"This certainly should serve as wake-up call to Colorado's 100,000-plus medical marijuana patients that their rights will not necessarily be respected in Wyoming and other states," Brian Vicente, head of the marijuana-advocacy group Sensible Colorado, said Thursday.
Burns, who has a Colorado registry card and doctor's certification to use marijuana for medical purposes, argued that Wyoming drug laws exempt people who are prescribed drugs by a doctor.
However, the Supreme Court ruled this week that under Colorado's medical marijuana laws, doctors do not prescribe medical marijuana but simply recommend use of marijuana for treatment. A person who receives a doctor's recommendation must apply for the Colorado medical marijuana registry card and the state determines whether to issue one.
"Importantly, it is not the action of the physician that determines any potential possession of marijuana by the patient," said the court opinion, written by Justice Michael Golden. "Clearly, therefore, the physician is not prescribing or ordering the possession of marijuana."
Tina Kerin, a member of the public defenders office who served as part of Burns' defense team, said the team is considering asking the state court to rehear the case. Rehearings are rarely granted by the Supreme Court, Kerin said.
Keith Stroup, lawyer for the Washington-based National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, said states with medical marijuana laws do not allow doctors to prescribe the drug because marijuana is still an illegal substance under federal law.
"So if a doctor should attempt to prescribe it he would lose his license and, of course, there would be no protection for the patient either," St. Pierre said.
No one has been prescribed marijuana since the early 1940s, he said.
Stroup also noted that some states with medical marijuana laws do allow use by residents of other states with such laws, but not all of them.