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Washington DOC Ends Marijuana Testing for Parolees

The Washington Department of Corrections (DOC) announced on June 1, 2014 that it will no longer test parolees for marijuana use – a move that will allow some 14,000 parolees to enjoy recreational marijuana like other citizens in the state.

Recreational marijuana has been legal in Washington since the enactment of Initiative 502, which legalized use of the drug. As such, said DOC Assistant Secretary Annmarie Alyward, “We’re putting some changes into effect so that we don’t routinely test offenders in the community for THC [the psychoactive compound in cannabis].” She added, “We don’t want [parolees] held at that level when, as a citizen, you wouldn’t be held to that level either.”

According to the DOC, state judges will still have the power to prohibit parolees from marijuana use on a case-by-case basis, as will the DOC when such restrictions are required in specific cases.

The change in drug testing will undoubtedly reduce costs. Prior to the new policy, parolees were tested via urinalysis for traces of six drugs, including THC. That list is now down to five. Further, the DOC will no longer invest large amounts of resources into processing parole violators for marijuana use, thereby reducing the state’s prison population and administrative costs. The move makes Washington the only state to allow recreational, as opposed to medical, marijuana use by parolees.

Colorado, another state where marijuana is legal, will continue to prohibit recreational use of the drug by those on parole supervision. House Bill 1267, signed into law on April 23, 2015, extended the right to use medical cannabis to those on probation and parole. As of May 2015, Arizona, Colorado and Rhode Island were the only three states along with the U.S. Virgin Islands to allow parolees to use marijuana for medical purposes.

Predictably, some law enforcement groups decried the Washington DOC’s decision to let parolees use recreational marijuana. According to Bill Copeland, spokesman for the Washington Association of Correctional Employees’ Committee, “we know that [marijuana use] can lead to behavior changes and other problems with the folks that are on supervision.” Steve Elliot, with Hemp News, countered by pointing out that statistics show crime has gone down in Colorado since marijuana legalization in that state, and the same could be expected for Washington. He called Copeland’s comments “prohibitionist bullshitting.”

For now, Washington State officials said they plan to “study the effect” of allowing parolees to use marijuana. “There’s no way the Department of Corrections is endorsing the use of marijuana,” declared DOC Assistant Secretary Alyward. “We are simply aligning with state law.”


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