California Highway Patrol

Perhaps the biggest victory for medical marijuana patients and advocates since the passage of the Compassionate Use Act, is the policy change made by the California highway Patrol (CHP) on August 22, 2005 as a result of ASA's lawsuit challenging its illegal policy of mandatory seizure of patient medicine

On February 15, 2005, ASA filed a group lawsuit against the CHP on behalf of six medical marijuana patients and caregivers. The CHP is by far the worst violator of the Compassionate Use Act and SB 420 accounting for more than one-quarter of all patient arrests and seizures in California reported to ASA. In order to quicken the pace of the lawsuit and put greater pressure on the CHP to change its unlawful policy, ASA filed a preliminary injunction on July 13, 2005.

As a result of ASA's lawsuit, the CHP adopted a new policy on August 22, 2005, discouraging CHP officers from confiscating medicine from patients and caregivers, and providing officers with instructions on how to verify valid medical marijuana documentation. A two-page memo issued to all CHP Command Centers on the same day clearly defines for CHP personnel what the new policy means, including this example scenario of a medical marijuana traffic stop:

An officer initiates an enforcement contact on a vehicle at 0200 hours for a mechanical violation and observers (sic) a small baggie of what appears to be marijuana sitting on the seat next to the driver. The driver claims 11352.7 (sic) H&S and presents a note from a physician recommending medical marijuana. The officer should contact the local communication/dispatch center to attempt to verify the validity of the claim. If the claim is valid, and the individual is within the state/local limit, no enforcement action should be initiated regarding the medical marijuana.

On October 6, 2006, the CHP and the Governor signed a settlement agreement, entering into a four-year “consent decree,” thereby ensuring the enforcement of the new CHP policy. In addition, ASA was awarded $75,000 in fees for its work on the case.