Understanding The Law of Medical Marijuana in California

Medicinal Marijuana is no different than standard marijuana.
Your son is home from college for Thanksgiving and he brought along his laundry. He also brought his Medical Marijuana card. You and your husband are trying not to freak out. Can he be arrested? Can you be arrested?

When Proposition 215 (also called the Compassionate Use Act) passed in 1996, California created an exception to the law forbidding the use or possession of controlled substances; Medical Marijuana. Medical marijuana refers to the use, possession, and/or cultivation of marijuana for medical purposes. People who are terminally ill, or suffer from painful or long-term symptoms associated with certain diseases, such as epilepsy, AIDS, glaucoma, and cancer, often request medical marijuana as a form of treatment and/or pain relief.

Eligible patients must present a “written or oral recommendation” from their physician. Guidelines passed in 2003 set limits for possession and cultivation of marijuana by eligible patients and their caregivers. Although the state issues medical marijuana identification cards, registration is not mandatory for compliance.

Medicinal Marijuana is no different than standard marijuana. Under the federal Controlled Substances Act, marijuana is classified as a “Schedule I drug”, meaning it: 1) has the potential for abuse, 2) has no currently accepted medical use in treatment in the United States, and 3) has a lack of accepted safety for use of the drug under medical supervision. Currently both federal and state laws still make it a crime to use, grow, sell, or possess marijuana. The federal Supreme Court, for example, has stated that it is illegal to use, sell or possess marijuana, even for medical use (in the 2005 case of Gonzales v. Raich).

The most common mistake made by Medical Marijuana patients is that they do not understand the very limited scope of the exception created by Prop 215. Penalties for Medical Marijuana violations may include prison time, county jail time, fines, or both, depending on the nature of the offence.

For example, punishable circumstances may include:

• Operating a motor vehicle while under the influence of Medical Marijuana 

• Possession over a certain medically prescribed amount (in grams)

• The sale of the drug to others, especially to or from a “minor”

• The cultivation of greater than the prescribed number of plants

• Possession of marijuana paraphernalia.

Prop 215 and Medical Marijuana are a very limited exception to the law of California and the United States forbidding possession of the drug. Defendants arrested for Possession of Controlled Substances, Sale of Controlled Substances and Cultivation should immediately seek the assistance of an experienced Criminal Defense Attorney to act as their advocate with the Court and District Attorney.

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