CA Attorney General Directs Law Enforcement on Medical Marijuana

August 25, 2008
Sacramento, CA -- California Attorney General Jerry Brown issued long-awaited guidelines on medical marijuana today with support from advocates and law enforcement alike. The guidelines direct law enforcement on how to approach encounters with medical marijuana patients and establish a road map for local police policies. However, more significantly, the guidelines provide recommendations for operating medical marijuana dispensaries in accordance with state law. Specifically, the Attorney General states that, "a properly organized and operated collective or cooperative that dispenses medical marijuana through a storefront may be lawful under California law."

The guidelines are the culmination of years of work by Americans for Safe Access (ASA) and other advocates to educate and urge action from the Attorney General and other state officials. "Today we stand beside the Attorney General of California in his effort to fully implement the state's medical marijuana law," said ASA Chief Counsel Joe Elford. "We welcome this leadership and expect that compliance with these guidelines will result in fewer unnecessary arrests, citations and seizures of medicine from qualified patients and their primary caregivers." The guidelines not only provide direction for patients and police, but also for lawyers, judges and public officials to better understand their rights, responsibilities, and obligations under state law.

The guidelines firmly establish that as long as patients and caregivers are abiding by local and state laws, they "should be released" from police custody and "the marijuana should not be seized." In the event that medical marijuana is wrongfully seized from a patient or caregiver, and the court orders its return, the guidelines state that police "must return the property." Affirming that California's medical marijuana law is not preempted by federal law, the Attorney General further directs "state and local law enforcement officers [to] not arrest individuals or seize marijuana under federal law" when an individual's conduct is legal under state law.

Contained within the guidelines is a controversial provision requiring medical marijuana dispensaries to operate on a not-for-profit basis. This interpretation of the law comes from California's Medical Marijuana Program Act (SB 420), passed by the legislature in 2003. However, while the voter-approved initiative Proposition 215, the Compassionate Use Act, references the need for a distribution system, no mention is made of for-profit status. In prior discussions with the Attorney General's office, ASA had strenuously objected to this provision of the guidelines.

The guidelines come at a time of escalating interference by the federal government. The federal Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and Department of Justice continue in their attempts to undermine state law through ongoing investigations, raids, seizures, prosecutions, and imprisonment of medical marijuana patients and providers. In response, several California mayors, including Gavin Newsom and Ron Dellums, have voiced their opposition to House Judiciary Chair John Conyers (D-MI) and have called for oversight hearings. "It is now up to Congress and the new President to align federal policy with California and other medical cannabis states," said ASA spokesperson Kris Hermes. "It is time to resolve the federal-state conflict that serves only to undermine California and other states' sovereignty and inflict harm on seriously ill patients and their care providers."

For further information:
Guidelines issued today by the California Attorney General: http://www.AmericansForSafeAccess.org/downloads/AG_Guidelines.pdf
Attorney General bulletin issued to all law enforcement after the 2005 U.S. Supreme Court decision in Gonzales v. Raich: http://www.AmericansForSafeAccess.org/downloads/AG_Raich_Bulletin2.pdf

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