CA Supreme Court Lets Stand Landmark Medical Marijuana Cultivation Ruling

September 24, 2009
Sacramento, CA -- The California Supreme Court yesterday refused to review County of Butte v. Superior Court, a landmark appellate court ruling that protects the right of medical marijuana patients and their primary caregivers to collectively cultivate. The landmark ruling by California's Third Appellate District Court also affirmed a patient's ability to take civil action when their right to collectively cultivate is violated by law enforcement. The Butte County case involved a private 7-patient medical marijuana collective in Paradise, California.

The nationwide medical marijuana advocacy group Americans for Safe Access (ASA) filed a lawsuit in May 2006 on behalf of 56-year-old David Williams and six other collective members after Butte County Sheriffs conducted a warrantless search of his home in 2005. Williams was forced by law enforcement to uproot more than two-dozen plants or face arrest and prosecution. Contrary to state law, Williams was told by the Sheriff that his collectively cultivated medical marijuana was illegal.

"By refusing to review this case, the California Supreme Court sends a strong message that local law enforcement must uphold the medical marijuana laws of the state and not competing federal laws," said Joe Elford, ASA Chief Counsel and the attorney that litigated the case on behalf of Williams. The appellate court ruling from July 2009 concluded that, "[T]he deputy was acting under color of California law, not federal law. Accordingly, the propriety of his conduct is measured by California law."

In its landmark decision, the appellate court asserted that the Compassionate Use Act of 1996 is not simply an affirmative defense to criminal sanctions: "[W]e see an opportunity for an individual to request the same constitutional guarantee of due process available to all individuals, no matter what their status, under the state Constitution. The fact that this case involves medical marijuana and a qualified medical marijuana patient does not change these fundamental constitutional rights or an individual's right to assert them."

The appellate court ruling upheld Butte County Superior Court Judge Barbara Roberts' ruling from September 2007, in which she states that seriously ill patients cultivating collectively "should not be required to risk criminal penalties and the stress and expense of a criminal trial in order to assert their rights." Judge Roberts' ruling also rejected Butte County's policy of requiring all members to physically participate in the cultivation, thereby allowing collective members to "contribute financially."

ASA filed the Williams lawsuit after receiving repeated reports of unlawful behavior by Butte County law enforcement, as well as by other police agencies throughout the state. After uncovering Butte County's de facto ban on medical marijuana patient collectives, ASA decided to pursue the case to show that collectives and cooperatives are protected under state law.

Further information:
CA Supreme Court disposition (Case # S175219): http://www.courtinfo.ca.gov/courts/supreme/actions/SL092309.PDF
Ruling by California's Third Appellate District Court: http://AmericansForSafeAccess.org/downloads/Butte_Appellate_Decision.pdf
Information on Butte Case: http://AmericansForSafeAccess.org/Butte

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