Qualifying For California’s Medical Marijuana Defense

Marijuana is a harmless substance. Marijuana, in fact, demonstrates anti-cancer properties, making marijuana healthier than other legal drugs, like tobacco.  Although the state of California continues to prosecute innocent people who use, possess, grow, or transport marijuana, the citizens of California recognize that marijuana does have many medical benefits.

In recognition of marijuana’s ability to relieve pain, California voters passed Proposition 215. Proposition 215, also known as the Compassionate Use Act (CUA), is an affirmative defense to the charges of possession and cultivation of marijuana. The California Legislature later amended the CUA to include the transportation of marijuana.

As an affirmative defense, the CUA does not actually prevent patients from being arrested. The CUA prevents a patient from being prosecuted for possessing, growing or transporting marijuana. In order to present the CUA defense though, the patient must have a doctor’s recommendation. This recommendation does not have to prescribe a specific amount of marijuana, but it should state that the patient requires medical marijuana and it should also be signed by the physician.

The only other requirement for a medical marijuana defense under California law is that the defendant be a patient afflicted with a serious illness. Serious illness includes AIDs, cancer, and/or severe chronic pain, among other conditions. The defendant’s condition would be established through the doctor’s recommendation and/or testimony.

Alternatively, the defendant could also be the primary caregiver to a patient and still qualify for the CUA defense. In order to be a primary caregiver though, the defendant must consistently give care to a seriously ill patient, independent of any assistance with medical marijuana before the marijuana was prescribed.

The defendant cannot qualify as a primary caregiver if the defendant does not provide for the patient’s basic survival needs or if the defendant’s only purpose as a caregiver is to give marijuana to the patient.  Giving marijuana to the seriously ill patient must be only one aspect of the defendant’s care to the patient in order for the defendant to be considered a primary caregiver in compliance with the Compassionate Use Act.

Although the CUA is an absolute defense to certain charges, the CUA does have limitations. First, the CUA only applies to the personal possession, cultivation, or transportation of marijuana. If the defendant is charged with another marijuana crime, like a DUI or intent to sell marijuana, then the CUA cannot be used. Finally, the CUA is only a state law. If the federal government is prosecuting the case, then the CUA cannot be used.

Despite the limitations, the Compassionate Use Act represents significant hope for seriously ill Californians. The CUA may not stop patients from being arrested, but it can keep patients out of California’s overcrowded prisons.

By: Jason Cheung, LegalMatch Staff Writer

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