California Medical Marijuana Laws
Is Medical Marijuana Legal in California?
Yes, California passed Prop. 215, also known as the Compassionate Use Act of 1996, approving the use of marijuana (cannabis) for medical purposes. Medical patients and designated primary caregivers may legally possess and cultivate marijuana if they have a licensed physician’s recommendation or medical marijuana card (MMIC).
Under state law, patients and caregivers are afforded protection from arrest and criminal sanctions if used in compliance with the law. State law however is superseded by federal law, which still classifies medical marijuana as an illegal substance. Therefore, medical marijuana patients can still face criminal charges under federal law. Also note, it is illegal at both the state and federal levels to possess or cultivate marijuana with the intent to distribute or sell.
What Counts as Marijuana?
All parts of the cannabis plant are considered marijuana, including seeds, buds, stalks, leaves, resin and fibers. Any medical marijuana and related cannabis products, such as edibles, tinctures, waxes, hash and hashish oils, concentrated cannabis, etc. are included in this category.
What Amounts of Medical Marijuana are Legal to Possess or Grow?
State law SB420 allows a limit of 6 mature or 12 immature plants and 8 ounces of dried marijuana per patient or caregiver, with the ability for a physician or local government to approve higher allowances. Although Prop 215 allows patients to possess whatever amount is necessary to treat their medical condition, patients will be more likely to face arrest if in possession or cultivating more than the limits set forth in SB420 or approved by their local ordinances.
Restrictions on Places Marijuana Can be Smoked.
Laws that govern smoking cigarettes apply to marijuana as well. Those laws prohibit smoking marijuana:
- anywhere within 1000 feet of a school, recreation or youth center
- on a school bus
- in a moving vehicle or boat
Marijuana use of any form is prohibited in any kind of workplace as well as correctional facilities. Employers have the legal right to terminate an employee who tests positive for marijuana, even if used for medical purposes.
Can I Still Get Arrested If I Have a Medical Marijuana Card or Doctor’s Recommendation?
Unfortunately, yes, you can still be arrested and criminally charged. Current law under Supreme Court decision, People vs. Mower, allows patients to request a dismissal of charges at a pre-trial hearing if they can prove that there is not probable cause that use of marijuana was not for medical purposes. Patients found cultivating or possessing amounts deemed excessive for personal medical use are at higher risk of being charged and prosecuted.
If patients are not found guilty, charges are dropped and they can file to have their property returned. If law enforcement officials confiscate your medicine but do not file charges, you still have a right to reclaim your marijuana, but may need legal assistance to do so.
A little known fact is that medical marijuana patients can have their medicine confiscated and face federal charges if in possession or cultivating on federal park or forest lands in California, or anywhere in the United States. There is no defense in federal court as state laws do not apply or protect.
If You Do Get Approached By an Officer of the Law...Be Smart and Stay Calm!
Many arrests for cannabis possession are due to traffic violations and noise complaints.
- Travel Safety: Do Not Smoke and Drive. If you travel with cannabis, make sure your vehichle is up to code and your cannabis is concealed, preferably in your trunk.
- Be a Good Neighbor: Loud music and domestic disputes can lead law enforcement to your home.
- Be Discreet: Try not to smoke where others can see you and never leave cannabis items in plain view.
Do Not Consent to a Search!
If approached by an officer of the law and he/she asks: "Do you mind if I look into your purse, bag, home or car?
You can answer: "I Do NOT consent to a search." "I believe in my Constitutional Right to Privacy and I Do NOT consent to a search."
Note: This probably will not stop an officer from searching you, but it can help get any evidence thrown out in court.
Do NOT let an officer into your home without a search warrant. If they have a search warrant, check the address, the date and a judge's signature.
If the law enforcement officer knocks on your door, step outside and close the door behind you while you find out why they are there. Do NOT leave the door oipen behind you.
If they do enter your home with or without a search warrant, state "I Do NOT consent to a search."
Exercise Your Rights!
There are 3 levels of police interactions and safe ways to handle each encounter.
- Casual Conversation: Ask if you are being detained. If not, walk away.
- Detention: If you are beingdetained, ask why!? Make the officer cite the law (and remember what they say).
- If Arrested: State, "I choose to remain silent and I would like to see a lawyer" (Remain Silent).
For more details on Legal Rights of a Medical Marijuana Patient.
Where & How Much Medical Marijuana Can Be Cultivated?
Local ordinances often dictate where and how much marijuana can be grown. For instance, San Francisco allows patients to grow up to 24 plants with up to a 25 square foot canopy and possession is limited to 8 ounces dried cannabis per patient. Marijuana dispensaries in San Francisco are limited to 99 plants in 100 square feet. In contrast, Sonoma County marijuana ordinances allow up to 30 plants with up to a 100 square feet canopy and up to 3 pounds of dried cannabis. Marin County marijuana ordinance remains consistent with state law – 6 mature or 12 immature plants and 8 ounces of dried cannabis. In addition, marijuana dispensaries in Marin cannot be within 600 feet of a school.
Medical marijuana patients and their caregivers may cultivate cannabis plants on private property. For renters, landlords have the right to evict tenants for growing marijuana on their premises.
Can I be Charged with Driving Under the Influence of Marijuana (Marijuana DUI)?
In the state of California, anyone driving under the influence of alcohol (BAC of 0.08 or higher) or drugs (including medical marijuana) whose driving is impaired to an appreciable degree can be charged with a DUI. For more on this, read What is a Marijuana DUI?
If you have more questions about the laws surrounding marijuana in general, NORML has a good overview on their website. Feel free to contact United Patients Group directly with any further questions or if in need of assistance in locating a local medical marijuana dispensary, doctor and/or lawyer.
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