A Summary of California Marijuana Laws

An Overview of California State Medical Marijuana Laws

How does one qualify to use medical marijuana?
In California, anyone who suffers from one or more serious ailments, defined here, may legally consume, possess, and grow marijuana. However, one must first receive a recommendation for the medicinal use of cannabis from a licensed physician. One must be 21 or older (or have approval from one’s legal guardian) to be eligible, and be a resident of California.

Where can I legally consume cannabis?
In California, legal patients may consume medical marijuana almost anywhere, but must still adhere to laws that restrict smoking in public spaces, in an operating motor vehicle, on a bus or boat, in a federal park or forest land, at or within 1,000 feet of a school, recreation and/or youth center unless the consumption occurs within a private residence.

What is a “medical marijuana card?”
There is often confusion surrounding the phrase “medical marijuana card” as many assume it is either required for legal medicinal cannabis use, or is the primary indicator of eligibility. The truth is, the Medical Marijuana Identification Card Program (MMIP), was established as a voluntary state-run medical marijuana patient database. It allows patients to acquire an identification card through their local county’s health department, even though obtaining such a card is not required. In fact, all someone needs to be a legal medical marijuana user in California is a doctor’s recommendation for cannabis (original copy is often required); one that can be verified by phoning the physician directly. The ID card is simply designed to identify legal patients and help protect them from unnecessary arrest.

What are the specific laws I should be aware of?
Proposition 215: The Compassionate Use Act — passed in 1996, this statute made California the first state to legalize medical marijuana for patients and their primary caregivers. Those patients who received a recommendation for cannabis from a state-licensed physician could legally use, possess, and cultivate medical marijuana for personal use. In fact, Prop 215 placed no legal limit on the amount of marijuana necessary for medical use.

Senate Bill 420: this bill, passed in 2004, expands upon Proposition 215 by establishing guidelines for its statewide enforcement. Many view the guidelines as a hotly-debated compromise between patient advocates and law enforcement. It outlines how much marijuana one can legally possess without being subject to potential arrest (6 mature plants or 12 immature plants and up to a half-pound of marijuana), and also establishes a voluntary patient identification card system, which protects patients and their caregivers from potential arrest. While patients can’t be prosecuted for possessing more than the suggested amount of marijuana, one can be subject to arrest and raids if police deem it to be excessive.

2010 Supreme Court Ruling: as the title suggests, a Supreme Court judge overturned the guideline that essentially restricted patients to possessing six mature plants, and stated that a patient can possess or grow enough medical marijuana that is reasonably related to one’s medical needs.

Today, California marijuana laws grant patients the same rights to medical marijuana as any other prescription drug.

What are the penalties for growing, possessing, and distributing marijuana?
After Prop 215 and the decriminalization of the possession of medical marijuana, being found possessing 28.5 grams or less is similar to receiving a traffic ticket. It’s only an infraction with no possibility of jail time. However, possession with intent to sell, possession or sale of more than 28.5 grams, and the cultivation on non-medical marijuana still carry heavy penalties throughout California and the United States (and often include prison sentences).

How may I be protected from these penalties under California’s medical cannabis laws?
In order to be eligible for such protections, one must be either a qualified patient or primary caregiver. A qualified patient is someone who has received a doctor’s approval or recommendation for the use of marijuana for medicinal purposes. This usually means a doctor will write a physical recommendation that the patient can hold as proof.

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