Medical Marijuana History

In 1996, California voters passed Proposition 215, commonly referred to as the Compassionate Use Act ("CUA"). The theory behind this vote to ensure that seriously ill Californians have the right to obtain and use marijuana for medical purposes without criminal penalty. [1] After passage of Proposition 215, a great deal of confusion has erupted. Marijuana patients have been searched, arrested and prosecuted for marijuana violations, partly because the act has been interpreted by many different eyes. As a result, California Legislature passed Senate Bill 420, which became law on January 1, 2004. After SB 420 became law, there have been numerous decisions by both the Court of Appeals and the California Supreme Court that have attempted to clarify the law.

Initially, the CUA provided protection for medical marijuana patients and their primary caregivers from prosecution for cultivation and possession of marijuana for medical use. They courts exhibited an initial fear regarding abuse of this law. As such, the initial rulings were narrowly construed, in an effort not to overstep the wishes of the California voters. For the first few years medical marijuana patients and their caregivers were left unprotected from arrest and prosecution for the transportation and distributing of medical marijuana. Drug task forces also seized the medical marijuana. Individuals were left with valid documentation proving their eligibility under the CUA, but unsure how legitimate they were. Consistency was lacking for all parties. The decisions were left to local government and local law enforcement to determine how they would proceed under the laws.

[1] Cal. Health & Safety Code ("H & S") § 11362.5(b)(1).

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