California Medical Marijuana Laws

Medical or Medicinal Marijuana is marijuana that is used for medical purposes. Marijuana is defined, under California law, as any part of the plant Cannabis Sativa L. including seeds and stalks. Technically, there is no chemical difference between illegal marijuana and medical marijuana. Illegal marijuana becomes medical marijuana if it is used for a legal medical purpose under the law. Each state has its own requirements for what constitutes the legal use of marijuana for medical purposes. The Attorney General of California has created the California Medicinal Marijuana Guidelines in order to outline for citizens and law enforcement personnel what constitutes medical marijuana usage in the state.

Does California Allow Medical Marijuana?

Like many states, California allows the legal use of medicinal marijuana. Proposition 215—The Compassionate Use Act of 1996—made it legal to grow and use marijuana upon the recommendation of a physician. The Medical Marijuana Program Act passed in 2004 allows people (or their caregiver) who have been recommended marijuana by their doctor to register and receive a medical marijuana identification card to show California law enforcement officers in order to prevent arrest.

Keep in mind that a doctor’s recommendation is not technically a doctor’s prescription for marijuana. The reason that doctors cannot prescribe marijuana is that cannabis is still illegal according to federal laws. As a consequence of that, doctor’s can only recommend that medical marijuana would be helpful given a patient’s condition.

Even if you have a verbal or written recommendation from your doctor, a police officer may still arrest you if they don’t believe that the recommendation is legitimate. However, if you are arrested with a doctor’s recommendation, you have a defense against conviction—you may not even be prosecuted once you show further proof of your doctor’s recommendation.

What is the Medical Marijuana Registry? States with legalized medical marijuana typically have registries to assist law enforcement in identifying patients with valid doctor’s recommendations. Consequently, only a state or county issued medical marijuana identification card gives you immunity from being arrested for possession of up to eight ounces of processed cannabis flower. Although you may possess more than eight ounces if your physician believes it is medically recommended, you are not immune from arrest if you own over that amount. Thus, you may have to prove your medical need in court if you are found with above that amount. The application process for a marijuana identification card is discussed on the California Department of Public Health webpage where you can access the necessary form. Again, the identification card is not required and those arrested for marijuana possession or cultivation can still use medicinal marijuana as a defense if they have a lawful doctor’s recommendation.

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