For additional information please see:

17822 Beach Blvd, Suite 330
Huntington Beach, CA 92647
Phone: (714)375-4745   Fax: (714)842-4946
E-Mail: [email protected]

California Medical Marijuana

SUMMARY: Fifty-six percent of voters approved Proposition 215 on November 5, 1996. The law took effect the following day. It removes state-level criminal penalties on the use, possession and cultivation of marijuana by patients who possess a "written or oral recommendation" from their physician that he or she "would benefit from medical marijuana." Patients diagnosed with any debilitating illness where the medical use of marijuana has been "deemed appropriate and has been recommended by a physician" are afforded legal protection under this act. Conditions typically covered by the law include but are not limited to: arthritis; cachexia; cancer; chronic pain; HIV or AIDS; epilepsy; migraine; and multiple sclerosis. No set limits regarding the amount of marijuana patients may possess and/or cultivate were provided by this act, though the California Legislature adopted guidelines in 2003.

The medical use provisions in California do not include reciprocity provisions protecting visitors from other medical use states.

AMENDMENTS: Yes. Senate Bill 420, which was signed into law in October 2003 and took effect on January 1, 2004, imposes statewide guidelines outlining how much medicinal marijuana patients may grow and possess. Under the guidelines, qualified patients and/or their primary caregivers may possess no more than eight ounces of dried marijuana and/or six mature (or 12 immature) marijuana plants. However, S.B. 420 allows patients to possess larger amounts of marijuana when such quantities are recommended by a physician. The legislation also allows counties and municipalities to approve and/or maintain local ordinances permitting patients to possess larger quantities of medicinal pot than allowed under the new state guidelines.

Senate Bill 420 also mandates the California Department of State Health Services to establish a voluntary medicinal marijuana patient registry, and issue identification cards to qualified patients. To date, however, no such registry has been established.

Senate Bill 420 also grants implied legal protection to the state's medicinal marijuana dispensaries, stating, "Qualified patients, persons with valid identification cards, and the designated primary caregivers of qualified patients ... 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."

MEDICAL MARIJUANA STATUTES: California Compassionate Use Act 1996, Cal. Health & Saf. Code, � 11362.5 (1996) (codifying voter initiative Prop. 215).

Cal. Health & Saf. Code, �� 11362.7 - 11362.83 (2003) (codifying SB 420).

CAREGIVERS: Yes. Primary caregiver is the individual, designated by a qualified patient or by a person with an identification card, who has consistently assumed responsibility for the housing, health, or safety of that patient or person. The caregiver must be 18 years of age or older (unless the primary caregiver is the parent of a minor child who is a qualified patient or a person with an identification card). Cal. Health & Saf. Code, �11362.7 (2003).

The medical marijuana immunity law passed by the California legislature, HS 11362.77, sets a minimum statewide guideline of 6 mature plants OR 12 immature plants AND up to 8 ounces of processed cannabis flowers. Physician's note exempts larger amounts. Cities and counties are empowered to set guidelines that are greater than those amounts, but not less. The guidelines for some California cities and counties are listed here.

For an extensive detailed discussion of California's medical marijuana laws:

Fourteen states, California, Alaska, Oregon, Washington, Maine, Hawaii, Colorado, Nevada, Vermont, Montana, Rhode Island, New Mexico, Michigan, and New Jersey, have passed laws eliminating criminal penalties for using marijuana for medical purposes, and at least a dozen others are considering such legislation. 

A 2005 Supreme Court decision (Gonzales v. Raich) made clear that regardless of state laws, federal law enforcement has the authority under the CSA to arrest and prosecute physicians who prescribe or dispense marijuana and patients who possess or cultivate it.

Nevertheless, in October 2009, the Department of Justice issued a memorandum to U.S. Attorneys stating that federal resources should not be used to prosecute persons whose actions comply with their states' laws permitting medical use of marijuana. This change in the Justice Department's prosecutorial stance paved the way for states to implement new medical-marijuana laws, and states are now attempting to design laws that balance concerns about providing access for patients who can benefit from the drug with concerns about its abuse and diversion.

See source for more legal information and medical conditions by state for which medical marijuana is permitted.    [New England journal of Medicine, 4/22/10, p. 1453]