California State Law
Hundreds of medical cannabis dispensaries, coops, collectives, and delivery services are currently doing business in California. Although many are operating in legal accordance with state and local law, the sale of medical cannabis remains strictly illegal under federal law, and the DEA has conducted scores of raids against medical cannabis businesses.
On Aug. 25, 2008, the California Attorney General’s office issued new guidelines for medical marijuana enforcement explaining its interpretation of SB420 and Prop 215. R Although not strictly binding as law, they provide a good indication of how the AG wants to proceed with state enforcement.
The guidelines note that storefront “dispensaries” are not explicitly recognized in state law, but that a “properly organized collective or cooperative” may legally dispense medical marijuana through a storefront provided it complies with certain conditions. The guidelines do not envision dispensaries operating as patient “caregivers,” nor as for-profit businesses
Dispensaries are expected to file for a seller’s permit and pay sales taxes to the Board of Equalization. This is consistent with state law, which requires sales taxes for all medicinal herbs and drugs except those sold by a licensed pharmacist upon a doctor’s “prescription ” (legally, doctors cannot “prescribe” marijuana, but only “recommend” or “approve” it).
Some cities and counties also require a business license and/or zoning permits for dispensaries.
Coops and collectives must serve only verified legal patients, and distribute only to their own members.
Beyond this, the guidelines specify that cooperatives and collectives should use only marijuana legally grown or obtained by their own members, with no purchases from outside their membership. This requirement is questionable, since there is nothing in state or federal law banning the purchase of marijuana, medical or otherwise, from any source (the law bans possession, not purchase, and possession is protected under Prop. 215). However, this problem can be avoided by including all growers and suppliers as members.
The guidelines also state that dispensaries should document their activities, and specifically “track and record” the source of their marijuana. This too is outside the requirements of Prop 215 and SB 420. While good record-keeping is always advisable as a business practice, keeping records on growers and vendors poses obvious problems given the threat of federal prosecution. Until federal law is reformed to protect medical marijuana suppliers, coops and collectives need to be careful about protecting their confidentiality.
“A collective should be an organization that merely facilitates the collaborative efforts of patient and caregiver members – including the allocation of costs and revenues. As such, a collective is not a statutory entity, but as a practical matter it might have to organize as some form of business to carry out its activities. The collective should not purchase marijuana from, or sell to, non-members; instead, it should only provide a means for facilitating or coordinating transactions between members.”
One might infer that “collective” refers to any organization of multiple patients. Unfortunately, the guidelines provide no explanation as to how these should operate. Presumably, the basic model is a group of patients and caregivers who plant a garden together and share the crop among themselves. The cultivation collective model does not necessarily envision walk-in clients, nor retail sales of medicine to members. Collectives may be supported by participation in work, donations or membership fees. Under one model, patients pay a set gardening fee for a certain part of the crop, and receive the harvest at no further charge.
Prop 215 allows individual patients and their caregivers to possess & cultivate as much as required for the patient’s own medical use. Because this criterion is vague and open to differing interpretations, it is difficult for patients and police to judge beforehand whether a particular garden is legal. All too frequently, police take a stingy interpretation of the law and bust patients or caregivers for gardens they deem excessive, thus leaving the matter to be settled in court at the defendant’s expense
The question remains as to how much medical marijuana cooperatives and collectives are allowed to grow or possess. According to the AG’s guidelines, they can scale the SB 420 limits in proportion to the number of their members. For example, under the standard state guideline, a coop with ten members could have ten times the limits, i.e. 60 mature or 120 immature plants and up to 80 ounces of marijuana. However, some counties and cities have established a maximum cap on the size of collective gardens: for example, San Francisco does not allow more than 99 plants in any case.
Other States have followed suit. Since its passage, voters in five other states legalized medical marijuana through similar initiatives. These all require a doctor’s recommendation and include the right for patients to cultivate marijuana for their own use. Two elections were undermined by government officials and have not allowed the votes to be counted. See explanation below for more details.
California, 1996, 56% yes vote on Prop 215 to add 11362.5 to the Health and Safety Code, legalizing medical marijuana for seriously ill patients. Arizona passed Prop 200 by an even higher 65% majority. That law moved all drugs to a situation that would allow doctors to recommend them. The state legislature repealed the popular election vote, and voters promptly put it back onto the ballot as a referendum for 1998. It won there again in 1998, and voters in Alaska, Washington, Oregon, Nevada and Maine also legalized medical use of marijuana through the initiative process.
Voters in Colorado and Washington DC were both deprived of their right to be counted. In Colorado it was a voter’s registrar’s administrative decision to discount voter petitions, and in Washington DC it took an act of Congress by the Republican dominated House to forbid that the votes be counted. Exit polls in both areas showed healthy margins of victory for medical marijuana. Colorado voters finally had their say in 2000 and approved the reform. Apparently, the Drug War is not healthy for democracy.
The Hawaii legislature has also legalized medical marijuana. Legislatures of more than 30 states have approved medical marijuana laws at some point during the past 30 years. Among its federal advocates was the notoriously conservative GOP Congressman Newt Gingrich.
Section 1. Section 11362.5 is added to the California Health and Safety Code, to read:
11362.5. (a) This section shall be known and may be cited as the Compassionate Use Act of 1996.
(b) (1) The people of the State of California hereby find and declare that the purposes of the Compassionate Use Act of 1996 are as follows:
(A) To ensure that seriously ill Californians have the right to obtain and use marijuana for medical purposes where that medical use is deemed appropriate and has been recommended by a physician who has determined that the persons health would benefit from the use of marijuana in the treatment of cancer, anorexia, AIDS, chronic pain, spasticity, glaucoma, arthritis, migraine or any other illness for which marijuana provides relief.
(B) To ensure that patients and their primary caregivers who obtain and use marijuana for medical purposes upon the recommendation of a physician are not subject to criminal prosecution or sanction.
(C) To encourage the federal and state governments to implement a plan for the safe and affordable distribution of marijuana to all patients in medical need of marijuana.
(2) Nothing in this act shall be construed to supersede legislation prohibiting persons from engaging in conduct that endangers others, nor to condone the diversion of marijuana for non-medical purposes.
(c) Notwithstanding any other provision of law, no physician in this state shall be punished, or denied any right or privilege, for having recommended marijuana to a patient for medical purposes.
(d) Section 11357, relating to the possession of marijuana, and Section 11358, relating to the cultivation of marijuana, shall not apply to a patient, or to a patient’s primary caregiver, who possesses or cultivates marijuana for the personal medical purposes of the patient upon the written or oral recommendation or approval of a physician.
(e) For the purposes of this section, Primary caregiver means the individual designated by the person exempted under this act who has consistently assumed responsibility for the housing, health or safety of that person.
Sec. 2. If any provision of this measure or the application thereof to any person or circumstance is held invalid, that invalidity shall not affect other provisions or applications of the measure which can be given effect without the invalid provision or application, and to this end the provisions of this measure are severable.