California Legal Manual: Being Prepared

Fortunately, many patients and caregivers never encounter law enforcement problems. Those that do, fairly regularly report successful interactions with local and county police. Many municipalities offer strong protection to medical marijuana patients. However, even in friendly jurisdictions, patients are still being harassed and arrested for medical marijuana, even if they present a valid, current doctor's recommendation and a cooperative dispensary membership card.

Sensible Medical Marijuana Use

Patients and caregivers should educate themselves about medical marijuana and understand the benefits and potential side effects of this medicine. By being a sensible medical marijuana user and making informed decisions, you can be as healthy as possible and help change the way people think about medical marijuana use.

Guidelines for Sensible Medical Marijuana Use:

  1. Always listen to the advice of your doctor and use good judgment when using medical marijuana.
  2. Carefully determine the amount of marijuana that is right for you. Start with a small amount and slowly increase your dosage to find the proper level for symptomatic relief.
  3. Inform yourself about marijuana’s effects on yourself and others. These effects include legal and health risks, as well as potential personal consequences.
  4. Clearly understand the benefits of marijuana and relief that its use provides you. Be able to explain your use to people who desire information about your use of marijuana as a medicine.
  5. Never use medical marijuana as an excuse or cue for antisocial or irresponsible behavior.
  6. Avoid medical marijuana use that puts you or others at risk, such as when driving, at work, or in public places. Remember, you can still be arrested for marijuana use and penalties can be stiff. As with any other prescription medication, it remains illegal to drive while under the influence.
  7. Medical marijuana should contribute to, rather than detract from, health, well-being, work, and relationships.
  8. Always carry a copy of your physician's recommendation or caregiver's agreement and recommendation with your medical marijuana.
  9. In addition, although the state-issued ID card is not necessary to obtain the protection of California's medical marijuana laws, law enforcement is more likely to honor ID cards, so it is a good idea to carry your ID card with you.

Being a Good Neighbor

A common cause of trouble for both patients and caregivers is complaints by neighbors. This problem might manifest itself in the form of an unpleasant personal confrontation or neighbors may report concerns about nuisance and safety to the police in some cases. Subsequent investigations have led to the arrest of patients and caregivers and to the closure of medical marijuana dispensing collectives.

Neighbors and nearby businesses may or may not share your opinion about medical marijuana. But, they will be much more likely to respect your right to safe medicine if you are not creating any harm or annoyance for them. By being conscious of neighbors' rights, privacy and property, patients and dispensing collectives can establish and maintain` harmonious relationships.

Domestic disputes, loud music, illegal parking, barking dogs, and other nuisances could cause neighbors to call the police. Police are required to investigate these reports, and they will come to your location. This can lead to citations or criminal charges for nuisance violations and also to further investigations that may detect your medical marijuana use. Being a good neighbor can help you avoid these encounters.

Being Prepared in Advance for Successful Law Enforcement Encounters

Any patient or caregiver can become the target of a law enforcement action. Each person who decides to use medical marijuana, or helps a patient to do so, should be prepared to successfully maneuver through these encounters. You might not be able to avoid arrest in each instance, but chances of successfully fighting charges are greatly improved by education and careful planning.

There are many measures you can take before legal problems occur. You should carefully study the Law Enforcement Encounters section of this manual and, if possible, attend a training class in your local area to most effectively learn this detailed information. You should also stay on top of the basics. Maintain a current doctor's recommendation and have a clearly defined patient/caregiver relationship. Keep a copy of your recommendation in your wallet or purse at all times. You may want to memorize your physician's and lawyer's phone numbers, or write them down to keep with your doctor's recommendation or identification.

It is very important to inform the people in your life, such as family, friends, and roommates, about your medical use of marijuana. They should be prepared to assist if you are arrested or harassed. They should also be educated about their legal rights (see the "know your rights" information), as they may be questioned in an investigation of your marijuana use. Also, be aware of how to get out of jail if you are arrested. You may want to make a plan for bail, bond, or being released from jail on your own recognizance. You may want to protect and organize your personal belongings and financial data and make a plan for emergency child, pet, and plant care. Lastly, always stay alert for signs of surveillance and be aware of potential conflicts with the neighbors to avert problems early.

Safe Gardening [1]

Have your Paperwork Together

Post a copy of your medical marijuana recommendation, along with the text of California HS 11362.5, prominently at any place where marijuana is cultivated. Keep a copy of your medical records and keep a duplicate of everything at an off-site location. In addition, if you use more marijuana than local guidelines allow, you should have a note from your doctor specifying that.

Use Common Sense

Fewer plants attract less attention from thieves and others who may wish you harm, so be realistic about the amount of marijuana you will need.

Packaging your medicine in eighth- or quarter-ounce baggies looks suspicious. Note that marijuana stores better in glass jars stored out of plain view, than in baggies.

Consider safety when you do medicate; marijuana smoke has a very distinctive smell. You will attract less attention if you do not smoke marijuana in plain view or near windows.

Do not drive your car while smoking. If the police smell marijuana smoke, they can search your vehicle. If you are going somewhere, medicate after you arrive, or bring your medicine in edible form. Please note that Proposition 215 won't protect you from charges of driving under the influence of marijuana.

In the Garden

Don't be sloppy. Compost or eliminate trash off-site. The larger the garden appears, the more likely you are to attract the attention of thieves or others who wish to cause you harm. Cultivating indoors is generally considered safer because it helps avoid nosy neighbors and reduces the risk of theft. Use extra odor-control methods during harvest to avoid offending neighbors. The plants smell especially pungent at this time, as they are particularly resinous. You may find the smell lingering in the air, on your clothes, and in your hair.

If You Are under Investigation

In the event of a law-enforcement encounter, don't talk to the police beyond showing them your identification, physician's statement, and medical marijuana ID card, if applicable. Keep relevant records near your garden and have an attorney to call right away. If you are determined to talk to the police without an attorney, get your affairs in order first and prepare to do some prison time.

Talking to Your Attorney about the Garden

You may talk to your lawyer about your garden, as Prop. 215 protects patients and caregivers who cultivate marijuana. Be careful discussing your financial situation with regard to your garden, and never make reference to selling marijuana. The law is written to allow financial reimbursement from patients only for labor and expenses and nothing more. If your attorney is unfamiliar with medical marijuana law, be prepared to educate them or ask them to contact ASA for more information.

Security Culture [2]

"Security Culture" refers to the importance of developing unbreakable unity within the medical marijuana community. If everyone involved maintains this unity, the entire community will be safer. Law enforcement agents frequently aim to turn people against each other and disorganize or disband the community.

Keeping an Eye Out for Surveillance

Take precautions. Assume you are under surveillance if you are in any way involved in providing medical marijuana to patients. Do not discuss sensitive matters on the telephone, through the mail, by email, or in your home, car, dispensing collectives, or office. Be cautious with whom you discuss sensitive information. Keep written materials and lists of individuals in a secure place. If you are arrested, the police may investigate all your contacts. Police officers have the right not only to go through your phone book, but can also answer any calls made to your phone.

Implement a Security Culture

Take care of yourself and your community. Don't gossip, brag or ask for compromising or unnecessary information about medical marijuana operations and activities. Although such behavior may be entertaining, it puts you at greater risk of arrest and the police may use personal splits to divide the community. When you are about to discuss your personal involvement in medical marijuana operations, consider the following:

  • Would this person repeat what you are about to tell them to anyone else? When you share information about your involvement in medical marijuana, you are sharing information that may be used against you in court if this person is ever interrogated as a witness. You should also be cautious of theft. Patients and providers have been robbed because of the wrong person knowing sensitive information.
  • Would you want this person to have to perjure him or herself? Think carefully: you may be giving people information that may cause harm to you or to them.

If someone you know is doing this, talk to him or her in private about why such talk can be hazardous. Be careful not to preach, injure the individual's pride, or raise defenses and prevent them from understanding your point. Someone who repeatedly engages in gossip, bragging or seeking unnecessary information about inappropriate topics after repeated educational talks is a grave risk at best, and a police agent looking to provoke or entrap others at worst.


Disclaimer: Medical marijuana law in California is continually evolving and medical marijuana remains illegal under federal law. If something in this August 2009 manual appears out of date or inaccurate, please consult with an attorney or contact ASA at 510-251-1856 or 1-888-929-4367.

  1.  This section is adapted from the "Safe Gardening" brochure prepared by Safe Access Now.
  1.  Excerpted from "Security Culture," Slingshot Issue #72, http://slingshot.tao.ca/ with modifications by ASA.