A rising number of parolees are getting around drug prohibitions by getting medical marijuana registration cards, and parole officials say something needs to be done about it.
State statutes allow for parole to be revoked for any offender testing positive for drugs, "except the use of marijuana in accordance with the provisions of Chapter 453A" - the medical marijuana statute.
Parole and Probation Lt. Tom Ely told the Board of Parole Commissioners this week they aren't trying to stop an offender who is suffering from HIV, cancer or diseases such as glaucoma.
"But most of them are only using that to get around the rules," he said. "We're just looking to deny those who are looking for an excuse to continue to get high."
Ely said examples on his list include a parolee who was granted a doctor's letter for access to medical marijuana for discomfort from his flat feet. Others qualified for such things as anxiety attacks.
There are now 2,898 patients with medical marijuana cards issued by Nevada's health division and another 311 applications pending.
The program has been in state law for about a decade, but according to the Health Division, the number of applications has skyrocketed recently, with 1,358 filed in just the past six months.
Ely said practitioners are handing out medical marijuana cards to people far too liberally. A total of 200 Nevada physicians have signed applications for patients with ailments including cancer, severe nausea, pain and seizures.
The law allows the use of medical marijuana if it helps with a "chronic or debilitating condition." By far the largest number of cardholders are those suffering "severe pain" - 2,610 of the total. But 1,436 are listed as suffering from muscle spasms.
The totals exceed the overall number of medical marijuana cardholders because most cardholders have multiple qualifying medical conditions.
"How can we manage offenders who are using drugs?" he asked. "If they're abusing drugs, there's no way to manage their rehabilitation."
He said psychologists handling offenders are also concerned that when offenders are high, they're more likely to commit new crimes.
"They're more likely to fall into recidivism if they're using a drug - especially a sex offender," he said. "A sex offender is more likely to fall into recidivist activity if he's using marijuana."
He and other parole and probation officers said they want the commission to require offenders to ask permission before applying for a medical marijuana card.
But Commission Chairman Connie Bisbee said she doubts state statute gives parole officials that power. Commissioner Tony Coda said the board doesn't have the medical expertise to make that kind of decision.
Parole Hearings Examiner David Smith pointed out that a parolee cannot be returned to prison for smoking pot if he has that card issued by the Health Division.
Bisbee said the board will have to explore possible legislation to "plug this hole." But until the law changes, she said there's little they can do.
"The statute is very clear as to the abilities of the board," she said. "While you could make a condition that you can't smoke marijuana, you can't enforce it."
Board members voted to look into possible changes in the law to address the problem at a future meeting.