California Supreme Court Rules Proposition 215 Protects Medical Marijuana Users From State Prosecution
The California Supreme Court on Thursday unanimously ruled that state residents who cultivate or use marijuana for medical purposes with a physician's recommendation are protected from state prosecution under Proposition 215, the San Francisco Chronicle reports (Chiang, San Francisco Chronicle, 7/19). Proposition 215, a ballot measure approved by California voters in 1996, allows patients with chronic diseases such as cancer and AIDS to use medical marijuana to treat pain (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 7/16). In the decision, which marked the first time that the state Supreme Court had addressed the scope of the law, Chief Justice Ronald George wrote that "the possession and cultivation of marijuana is no more criminal -- so long as its conditions are satisfied -- than the possession and acquisition of any prescription drug with a physician's prescription" (Dolan, Los Angeles Times, 7/19).
In the case, the court heard an appeal from Myron Carlyle Mower, a diabetic Tuolumne County man charged with possession and cultivation of marijuana in December 1997 after sheriff's deputies found 31 marijuana plants in his home, 28 more plants than county regulations allowed. A jury convicted Mower in 1998, and he was placed on probation for five years. His attorneys appealed the case, arguing that Proposition 215 provided Mower, who had a recommendation from a physician to use medical marijuana, with "complete immunity" from the charges. Although the state Supreme Court on Thursday rejected the argument, the court ruled that medical marijuana users could "defend themselves from charges by proving they need it for health reasons" (Anderson, Contra Costa Times, 7/19). In the 1998 trial, the jury received instructions that the defense had to establish a "preponderance of evidence" that Mower had a recommendation from a physician to use medical marijuana, but the state Supreme Court said that the defense only had to "raise a reasonable doubt as to that fact." The court also said that state residents with a physician's recommendation to use medical marijuana could ask a judge to dismiss charges against them based on the evidence of a recommendation. The court did not establish limits on the amount of marijuana that an individual with a recommendation from a physician can cultivate or possess. California Attorney General Bill Lockyer (D), who supports the decision, said that he hoped Gov. Gray Davis (D) would establish such limits (Walsh/Cooper, Sacramento Bee, 7/19).
Medical marijuana advocates praised yesterday's decision. "What this decision does is finally provide relief for the common patient in the community," David Nick, a San Francisco attorney who filed a brief in the case on behalf of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, said (San Francisco Chronicle, 7/19). The decision "widens the gap" between state and federal law, the Los Angeles Times reports. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled last year that federal law provided "no medical exception" for medicinal marijuana. Gerald Uelmen, Mower's attorney, said that the decision should reduce the number of individuals prosecuted for marijuana possession and cultivation in state courts. The decision will not affect federal prosecutions, he said (Los Angeles Times, 7/19).