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Medical Marijuana Laws


In 1996, California voters passed Proposition 215, an initiative allowing use, possession and cultivation of marijuana for personal medical use. The Proposition was enacted into law with the legislative passage of The Compassionate Use Act, amended in 2005 by The Medical Marijuana Program Act, commonly known as the Senate Bill or SB420, as well as subsequent cases.

The California medical marijuana laws do not make possession of marijuana legal for everyone. Only "qualified patients" who possess a physician's recommendation or approval for personal medical use of marijuana, "primary caregivers" and, under certain circumstances, cooperatives and collectives who engage in cultivation and distribution of marijuana for their member patients and caregivers, are entitled to legal protection. It is important to note that even possession or cultivation of marijuana in California is still illegal unless a person can show he/she belongs to one of the three exempted categories. The exemptions are strictly limited to medical use; the law does not allow for use of marijuana for non-medical purposes or sales of marijuana for profit.

Persons Protected Under California Medical Marijuana Laws

Qualified Patients

Proposition 215 and the Compassionate Use Act protects "qualified patients" who have obtained a recommendation or approval from a licensed physician to use marijuana for medical purposes in the treatment of cancer, anorexia, AIDS, chronic pain, spasticity, glaucoma, arthritis, migraine, or any other illness for which marijuana provides relief.

Primary Caregivers

A primary caregiver is a person designated by a qualified patient who has consistently assumed responsibility for the housing or health or safety of the patient. SB 420 allows primary caregivers to receive compensation from a qualified patient for actual expenses incurred, including reasonable compensation for services provided to enable the patient to use marijuana or for payment of out-of-pocket expenses. A primary caregiver can be an owner or operator or a designated employee of a health clinic, hospice, home health agency or some other kind of health facility. It is not entirely clear whether organizations can be primary caregivers. Arguably, cooperatives and collectives authorized with the passage of SB 420 could qualify as caregivers. Generally, the caregiver must be at least 18 years old. The number of patients the primary caregiver can care and provide medical marijuana for is not limited, if all patients reside in the same city or county as the caregiver. The caregiver is limited to caring for only one patient if that patient resides in a different county than the caregiver.

Amounts of Marijuana Which Can Be Possessed For Medical Use

There are no set limits as to the amount of cannabis a qualified patient or primary caregiver can cultivate or possess. However, we do not recommend to anyone to treat this fact as green light to possess or cultivate high quantities of marijuana. The prevailing legal standard for possession or cultivation is reasonable personal medical use. While a skilled attorney can often convince the court or the jury that even several hundred marijuana plants can constitute quantity consistent with reasonable personal medical use, the chance of prosecution for cultivation increases significantly with the number of plants grown or weight of dry marijuana possessed. Possession of greater amounts will be presumptively deemed illegal and used as basis for prosecution for more serious felonies such as possession with intent to sell.

SB 420 set the presumptive legal limits for personal medical use of marijuana at 6 mature or 12 immature plants and 8 ounces of dried, processed marijuana. Under SB 420 these quantities can be exceeded if this quantity does not meet the patient's medical needs and a physician recommends or approves a higher amount.

Concentrated Cannabis (Hashish).

While not specifically mentioned in any statute, possession of concentrated cannabis or hashish is protected under medical marijuana laws.