This month the Los Angeles City Council voted to repeal a recent ordinance banning the operation of medical marijuana dispensaries within the city. According to an LA Times story, activists collected tens of thousands of signatures to qualify a referendum repealing the ban, forcing the Council to rescind the ordinance or place the issue on the March ballot.
California became the first state to legalize medical marijuana through the 1996 passage of Proposition 215, also known as the "Compassionate Use Act." Prop 215 removed state criminal penalties for the use, possession and cultivation of marijuana by individuals possessing a "written or oral recommendation" from a licensed physician that the person "would benefit from medical marijuana." Individuals suffering from illnesses such as cancer and arthritis where the medical use of marijuana has been "deemed appropriate and has been recommended by a physician" qualify for protection under Prop 215.
In 2004, the California Legislature passed Senate Bill 420, which imposed state guidelines stating how much medicinal marijuana a person could legally grow and possess. Under SB 420, an individual could legally possess up to eight ounces of dry marijuana and six mature marijuana plants. An exception was allowing individuals to possess greater quantities marijuana with the recommendation of a physician.
SB 420 also permitted individual counties and municipalities to pass local ordinances allowing individuals to possess larger amounts of medicinal marijuana than allowed under state law. Finally, and most importantly to this issue, SB 420 granted legal protection medicinal marijuana dispensaries, by providing:
Qualified patients, persons with valid identification cards, and the designated primary caregivers of qualified patients and persons with identification cards, who associate within the State of California in order collectively or cooperatively to cultivate marijuana for medical purposes, shall not solely on the basis of that fact be subject to state criminal sanctions under Section 11357, 11358, 11359, 11360, 11366, 11366.5, or 11570.
Despite the fact that operating a marijuana dispensary is once again legal in Los Angeles, as well as other parts of California, under federal law, specifically the "Controlled Substances Act", marijuana is still classified as a Schedule I drug. This means that, even if a person is legally growing or possessing marijuana under California state law, he is still in violation of federal law.
Given that California and federal law are at odds, and that each county and/or municipality in the state is free to adopt its own ordinances, medical marijuana users can be subjected to prosecution even if qualified to possess the drug legally.
In our area an experienced criminal lawyer will be able to navigate the intricacies of such laws and handle any problems that could arise. If you have questions regarding California's marijuana laws, contact Attorney Lauren K. Johnson. Attorney Johnson works with clients facing drug charges in Irvine, Newport Beach, Huntington Beach, Westminster, Santa Anna, Fullerton, and many other surrounding communities.