CA Supreme Court Throws Out Medical Marijuana Limits

CANNABIS CULTURE – In a unanimous ruling, the California Supreme Court has affirmed an appeals court ruling throwing out statewide limits on the possession and cultivation of medical marijuana.

Overruling the appeals court decision, the Court left in place a voluntary ID card program that protects patients from arrest, citing a similar ruling in San Diego NORML, supra 165 Cal.App.4th.

The Compassionate Use Act (CUA), passed as Prop. 215 by the voters in November 1996, contained no limits on the amount of marijuana a patient or caregiver may possess or cultivate. Courts have left open the “amount reasonably related to his or her medical needs.” However, the CUA protects patients against prosecution only, not arrest.

Under SB420, which set up the state MMP (Medical Marijuana Program), patients who voluntarily register for a state-issued ID card are protected against arrest. The court left the ID card program in place, while throwing out the 8-oz., 6 mature or 12 immature plant statewide limits. Those limits were overridden by several counties and cities across the state, as the law allowed.

The defendant, Patrick Kelly, who has hepatitis C, chronic back pain, and cirrhosis, was arrested in October of 2005 for possessing 12 ounces and cultivating 7 plants at his home in Lakewood, California. Kelly was convicted a year later by a jury, which concluded that he had exceeded the state-imposed limits. California’s Second Appellate District Court overturned Kelly’s conviction on the grounds that legislatively-imposed limits on possession and cultivation of medical marijuana are an unconstitutional restriction to a voter approved initiative.

Both parties in the case, Kelly and the State Attorney General, agreed that medical marijuana limits should be abolished as unconstitutional, and both agreed that the limits should be enforced for “those persons who voluntarily participate in the program by registering and obtaining ID cards.” But the court left the second question open. According to a press release from Americans for Safe Access, “Advocates remain concerned that without guidance on personal use amounts, police may abuse their discretion to arrest patients who are in compliance with the law.”

“This ruling reinforces the status quo,” said Dale Gieringer of California NORML. Gieringer interprets the ruling to mean patients will still have a “safe harbor” against arrest if they follow the stated guidelines, and can argue for any medically necessary amount in court.

The court affirmed this. “Whether or not a person entitled to register under the MMP elects to do so, that individual, so long as he or she meets the definition of a patient or primary caregiver under the CUA, retains all the rights afforded by the CUA. Thus, such a person may assert, as a defense in court, that he or she possessed or cultivated an amount of marijuana reasonably related to meet his or her current medical needs, without reference to the specific quantitative limitations specified by the MPP.”