California Court of Appeal Rules Medical Marijuana Off-Limits For Offender

As the battle over the legality of medical marijuana rages on in the state of California, it remains clear that, while legal for medicinal purposes, there are limits to the extent to which medicinal marijuana users can avail themselves of its benefits. Nothing illustrates this fact better than the California First District Court of Appeals recent decision in People v. Leal, where the Court determined that trial judges can prevent medical marijuana users from using or possessing the drug as part of probation imposed pursuant to a criminal conviction.

The Court’s 3-0 decision, upheld the sentence of Contra Costa County Superior Court Judge Leslie Landau, prohibiting criminal defendant Daniel Leal from using or possessing medical marijuana during a three-year term of probation. In 2009, Leal was convicted of possession of marijuana for sale following a jury trial and was sentenced to serve three years on probation.

As part of probation, Judge Landau ordered that Leal was not to “use, possess, or have in your custody or control any illegal drugs***and that includes marijuana,” commenting that she found that Leal was “much more likely to engage in future criminal activity selling marijuana again if he is in possession of it for medical use***so he’s going to have to find some other way of medicating himself other than using marijuana.” Leal appealed the sentence, arguing that that the trial court’s condition that he not use or possess marijuana violated his right to use marijuana under California’s Compassionate Use Act.

In holding that Leal was not entitled to use medicinal marijuana, Justice Anthony Kline opined “Leal used Compassionate Use Act authorization as a front for illegal sales of marijuana, sales partly carried out with a loaded semiautomatic handgun in a public park occupied by mothers and their young children.”

Kline further remarked that judges must “balance the need to protect the public with California residents’ right to the use of medical marijuana” and that there may be situations where a criminal defendant’s use of marijuana could be justified by a compelling need for its use as medical treatment.

Commenting on the Court’s decision, Leal’s appellate attorney maintained that, although consistent with California appellate court rulings on this issue, in issuing a detailed 22-page opinion, the First District may have intended “to send a very clear message that if you end up being convicted of possessing marijuana for sale, don’t expect to be able to continue using medical marijuana.”

On a previous occasion, this blog has addressed the complications that have accompanied California’s legalization of marijuana for medicinal use. Leal’s case exemplifies another of those complications and illustrates the need for criminal defendants to have experienced legal counsel prepared to deal with such issues.

If you have questions regarding California’s marijuana laws, contact Attorney Lauren K. Johnson today.