California Supreme Court Ruling Limits Medical Marijuana Distribution

  • by Allen St. Pierre, Former NORML Executive Director November 24, 2008

    Smelly Money Leads To Major Legal Review Of California’s Medical Marijuana Distribution

    In an important legal case decided today that cannabis reform advocates have been waiting on for nearly two years, the California Supreme Court ruled that criminal defendants are not entitled to a defense as Proposition 215 (Prop 215) caregivers if their primary role is only to supply marijuana to patients.

    “We hold that a defendant whose care-giving consisted principally of supplying marijuana and instructing on its use, and who otherwise only sporadically took some patients to medical appointments, cannot qualify as a primary caregiver under the Act and was not entitled to an instruction on the primary caregiver affirmative defense. We further conclude that nothing in the Legislature’s subsequent 2003 Medical Marijuana Program (Health & Saf. Code, § 11362.7 et seq.) alters this conclusion or offers any additional defense on this record. ”

    Prop 215 defines primary caregiver to be the “individual designated by the [patient]… who has consistently assumed responsibility for the housing, health, or safety of that person.” According to the Court, these words ” imply a caretaking relationship directed at the core survival needs of a seriously ill patient, not just one single pharmaceutical need. ”

    The Court concluded, ” a defendant asserting primary caregiver status must prove at a minimum that he or she (1) consistently provided care-giving, (2) independent of any assistance in taking medical marijuana, (3) at or before the time he or she assumed responsibility for assisting with medical marijuana. ”

    The Court’s ruling effectively limits the caregiver defense to relatives, personal friends and attendants, nurses, etc. In particular, it excludes its use by medical marijuana “buyers’ clubs,” retail dispensaries and delivery services.

    The remaining legal defense for medical marijuana providers is to organize as patient cooperatives and collectives, which are legal under SB 420.

    “The Mentch decision highlights the inadequacy of California’s current medical marijuana supply system,” California NORML coordinator Dale Gieringer told the Indy Bay News . “The law needs to allow for professional licensed growers, as with other medicinal herbs.”

    Amazingly, this case found its way to California’s high court because bank tellers reported Mentch to law enforcement because his cash deposit smelled strongly like cannabis (Mentch was caught with approximately 200 cannabis plants that he believed he was lawfully tending, in compliance with Prop 215, for five medical patients who possessed a physician’s recommendation).

    Full text of the People vs. Mentch is found here. Listen to NORML Legal Counsel and founder Keith Stroup on today’s AudioStash talk about the significance of the court ruling and likely implications on how patients can continue to lawfully access medical cannabis.

    30 responses to “California Supreme Court Ruling Limits Medical Marijuana Distribution”

    1. Sad Day in CA says:

      All the more reason to end prohibition all together.

    2. Raoul Duke says:

      There is no reason that modern “street prices,” or even close to it needs to be applied to CA medical cannabis – in my opinion. This is different than if outright legalization were the CA law, which it is not. Prop215 passed voters without any specific for-profit allowances for businesses to pop up and make tons of money. In my opinion, it’s amazing how easy pot is to grow, when you need it, but can’t go buy it in a store (and wow, it’s amazing how much pot you get for your money it turns out when you do grow for yourself).

    3. Lori March says:

      uh, i have a question: how can the court expect a caregiver, no matter whom it might be, to know, IN ADVANCE, that they would be supplying medical marijuana? This seems to me to be an unconstitutional, and unwieldily weighted, requirement; which, if my understanding of Prop. 215 is correct, was not intended. The language of which: “Prop 215 defines primary caregiver to be the “individual designated by the [patient]… who has consistently assumed responsibility for the housing, health, or safety of that person.” When you take those kind of responsibilities, yes, legally, morally, for tax & estate purposes!, you are the primary caregiver. So, why does the court need to make such a big deal of something already stated in the law. And, too, the law needs to be amended to help protect the supplier’s of the medicine. Personally, and while I agree with PARTS of the interpretation, I have always thought that depending on such a “loose” relationship as caretaker. I don’t in anyway think that they are wrong! I’m just saying that they took their chances on the defense, and it didn’t completely pan out. Time to go back to the books, and I would raise the constitutional question of the “foreknowledge” concept.

    4. Katman says:

      It is unfortunate that our governments abdicater their
      responsibility to allow the citezenery to pursue the
      constitutional right to LIFE LIBERTY and THE PURSUIT
      of HAPPINESS.

      The fault lies within each of us for allowing these
      scoundrels to be re-elected with such frequency. It’s
      time to make them pay for their contunied oppression.
      Vote them out if they have not taken a public stand
      fo legalize marijuana. If they are not clear on the
      issue then vote them out. Target candidates who insist
      on keeping marijuana illegal. Throw them out of office
      and make sure only those candidates who openly support lelgalization are their replacements.

      Even our recent election had two major candidates that failed to address the issue. I did not vote for either
      of them. I voted for Ron Paul who has consistantly
      stated the drug war is a sham. It’s time to get more
      candidates who support his view.

    5. Katman says:

      2nd reply.

      The Good Samaritian Act should be investigated.
      Rendering aid to those is distress should apply
      to those who supply medical marijuana.

    6. Richard Schimelfenig says:

      While this is somewhat of a setback for SOME people, I predicted this outcome. I have mixed feelings: On the one hand many patients will be affected who will now have to replace the commercial growers with actual caretakers. On the other hand, a large number of people who have consistently profited from the suffering and vulnerability of patients will no longer be able to reap the huge profits we’ve seen. Despite claims that they have not made profit, we’ve seen the commercial gorwers with new houses and new cars bought with patients’ suffering.

      In another way, this also affirms what I have been saying all along, and also affirms NORML’s new focus. State legislative efforts are certainly to be cheered. These are some hard working people who have gotten these laws passed. But, not it becomes more clear that in order for there to be any real change in the way ganja consumers are treated, we must all focus as much energy and effort as possible in passing meaningful federal reform.

      Ron Paul and Barney Franks have two bills before congress. The deceriminalization bill would be our best bet to help the most patients as well as stop the persecution of recreational ganja consumers.

      NOW IS THE TIME for all activists to start focusing their resources on getting that bill, or at least the medical protection bill, passed and in front of President Obama.

      The states “have our number” and are becomming more organized and adept at stopping l our efforts. Those state laws are all based on the perpetuation of the federal Controlled Substances Act (read ’em, they all have similar language). By decriminalizing at the federal level, not only would that remove almost all federal interference it would change the very basis of all states’s laws. States that have no voter initiative will have a better chance of passing law reforms that have been stalled for decades because of the CSA. But, continuing to spin wheels on state level legislation is a waste of resources, at best, and a complete waste of time in many cases.

      George Soros funds MPP and Obama. Hey, George, how about funding some real change???

    7. For more analysis of the Mentch decision, join me and Prop 215 co-author Bill Panzer (an attorney in California on NORML’s Legal Committee) on today’s (Tue 11/25) Daily Audio Stash.

      Keith Stroup joined me on yesterday’s (Mon 11/24) Daily Audio Stash to discuss the ruling as well.

    8. Richard Steeb says:

      What a crock. First, the pinko-crap notion that “profit” is somehow unethical and/or illegal. Now we have to form a “collective” where the herb comes “from each according to his ability” and is distributed “to each according to his need”. How fecking lovely. Lenin and Marx are laughing in their graves.

    9. JP says:

      All over the world, haters are mobilizing to stop what is an eventuallity. A respected British think tank has set 2020 as the year when it is legal. We need to be patient and do our best not to buy from seedy people.Ask the buying centers what they suggest.
      The Feds hate us being happy. Who would join the military, buy guns in an excessive manner, or abuse alcohol(just one drink is toxic)? I am an ex law enforcement officer,and have made arrests of cannibus.
      Don’t leave it out in plain sight(Living Room,Car interior,anywhere a police officer would arrive or be present at). PUT IT AWAY. THE WORST THING ABOUT POT IS THAT IS STILL ILLEGAL BY FEDERAL STANDARDS. WATCH “SUPER HIGH ME” DVD.