California Legal Manual: Medical Marijuana Laws

California's Medical Marijuana Law

The Compassionate Use Act of 1996 (CUA)

In 1996, the California voters enacted Proposition 215, codified as Health & Safety Code 11362.5:

  1. This section shall be known and may be cited as the CUA.
    1. The people of the State of California hereby find and declare that the purposes of the CUA are as follows:
      1. To ensure that seriously ill Californians have the right to obtain and use marijuana for medical purposes where the medical use is deemed appropriate and has been recommended by a physician who has determined that the person's 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.
      2. 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.
      3. To encourage the federal and state governments to implement a plan to provide 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.
  2. Notwithstanding any other provision of law, no physician in this state shall be punished, or denied any rights or privilege, for having recommended marijuana to a patient for medical purposes.
  3. 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 the 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.
  4. 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. 
    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.

The major protection for patients and caregiver within the CUA is offered by Section (d) of the CUA, which exempts those qualified from Sections 11357 and 11358 of the California Health and Safety Code. Here is the definition of those sections:

Health & Safety Code Section Generic Description of Offense
11357(a) - Felony/Misdemeanor Possession of Any Concentrated Cannabis
11357(b) - Misdemeanor Possession of 28.5 grams or less of Marijuana
11357(c) - Misdemeanor Possession of more than 28.5 grams of Marijuana
11358 - Felony Cultivation of Any Marijuana

Concentrated Cannabis

On October 21, 2003, Calif. Attorney General Bill Lockyer issued an opinion addressing the legality of concentrated cannabis, which states that concentrated cannabis or hashish is included within the term "marijuana" as it is used in the CUA. This means that a patient who possesses or produces concentrated cannabis with natural ingredients should be afforded the protections of the state's medical marijuana laws; however, there is a serious question whether the manufacture of concentrated cannabis through chemical processes, such as a butane torch, is covered under the medical marijuana laws.

California Legislature Passes SB 420

In 2003, the state legislature passed SB 420 in an attempt to implement the CUA. SB 420, also known as the Medical Marijuana Program Act, went into effect January 1, 2004. While SB 420 has not prevented all harassment of patients by law enforcement, it has allowed for greater protection in the courts.

SB 420 attempted to further define the CUA in a variety of ways:

  1. SB 420 established guidelines for appropriate personal use. State law carves out "protection" for patients and caregivers who cultivate as many as six mature or twelve immature plants and possess as much as eight ounces of dried marijuana. While localities can establish higher personal use amounts, they may not go lower than the guidelines in SB 420. While guidelines establishing "acceptable" quantities were meant to be thresholds, they have been interpreted by law enforcement and by the court in People v. Kelly (2008) as limits. Higher quantities are certainly necessary for many patients, and SB 420 extends the same protections to patients with a physician statement stating such a need, which can be helpful if a case goes to court. (ASA encourages patients to keep up to date on your local guidelines and be active in the process of developing guidelines in your area.)
  2. SB 420 established "protection" from arrest and prosecution for cultivation, use, possession and transportation for those who are in compliance with their local or state guidelines.
  3. SB 420 authorizes medical marijuana collectives and cooperatives. This is an important expansion of legal rights for medical marijuana dispensing collectives and cooperatives serving large numbers of patients.
  4. The Compassionate Use Act defines the role of "caregiver" as "the individual, designated by a qualified patient or by a person with an identification card, who has consistently assumed responsibility for the housing, health, or safety of that patient or person." While there is no limit to how many patients a caregiver may assist in his or her own county, SB 420 sets a limit of one patient residing outside the caregiver's county for each primary caregiver. The role of caregiver does allow for "reasonable compensation incurred for services provided." A patient need not be a caregiver to be part of a patient collective or cooperative, as these are legally distinct concepts.

SB 420 also mandated a statewide voluntary ID card program and the participation of all California counties in this program. This State Department of Public Health program provides a confidential identification system to help protect patients from law enforcement interference and aid law enforcement in the implementation of medical marijuana law. A list of counties participating in the ID card program can be found  Here. Patient participation in the ID card program is not a requirement for "protection" under the law. However, though some voice concerns about releasing private information to state officials, the ID card program offers several benefits to patients that recommendations do not, such as:

  • Recommendations offer less protection from arrest, since SB 420 explicitly provides for immunity from arrest upon the presentation of a valid state ID card
  • Because of the standardized format of the ID card (in contrast to a doctor's recommendation), it is more difficult for law enforcement agents to claim your documents are fraudulent
  • Your photo appears on the state ID card, making your ownership of the document easily verifiable (unlike a doctor's recommendation)
  • Your state ID card does not include your name

Seizure of Medicine and Return of Property

The Fourth Appellate District Court of Appeal held in Garden Grove v. Superior Court (2007) that trial courts must return medical marijuana improperly seized by the police to qualified patients. Otherwise, there would be a violation of due process. Because the California and United States Supreme Courts denied review of this issue, this case is binding on all trial courts in this State, unless a different court of appeal holds to the contrary.

California Highway Patrol Policy Change

On February 15, 2005, ASA filed a group lawsuit against the California Highway Patrol (CHP) to challenge the CHP's former policy of mandatory confiscation of medicine from patients. The CHP had been the worst violator of the CUA and SB 420, accounting for more than one-quarter of all reports to ASA of patient arrests and seizures across the state. As a result of ASA's lawsuit, the CHP adopted a new policy on August 22, 2005, regarding patient and caregiver encounters. This new policy discourages CHP officers from confiscating medicine from patients and caregivers, and provides officers with instructions on how to verify valid medical marijuana documentation. A memo issued to all CHP Command Centers defines for CHP personnel what the new policy means, including this example scenario of a 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.

Since CHP officers are instructed to honor doctor's recommendations that they can verify, it is important to keep these documents on you when you're in possession of medicine. Caregivers should also always have a copy of their caregiver's agreement. If officers find pay/owe sheets, large amounts of marijuana, packaging for sale, or large amounts of cash, they can decide that any marijuana they find is for non-medical use and may confiscate your medicine and arrest you. It is safest to abide by the state or local guidelines. A complaint form that can be submitted to CHP when its officers violate the medical marijuana policy can be found at: http://www.chp.ca.gov/CCP/index.html

Case Law

For details on relevant case law, please refer to the Appendix.

Conflict between State and Federal Law

As of this printing, the federal government claims that marijuana is not medicine and in Gonzales v. Raich (2005), the US Supreme Court held that the federal government has the constitutional authority to prohibit marijuana for all purposes. Thus, federal law enforcement officials may prosecute medical marijuana patients, even if they grow their own medicine and even if they reside in a state where medical marijuana use is protected under state law. The Court indicated that Congress and the Food and Drug Administration should work to resolve this issue.

The Raich decision does not say that the laws of California (or any other medical marijuana state) are unconstitutional; nor does it invalidate them in any way. Also, it does not say that federal officials must prosecute patients. Decisions about prosecution are still left to the discretion of the federal government.

According to a post-Raich statement by California Attorney General Bill Lockyer, the ruling does not overturn California law permitting the use of medical marijuana. Lockyer also underscored the role of local law enforcement in upholding state, not federal, law. The Court of Appeal rejected the County of San Diego's claim in San Diego v. NORML (2008) that California's medical marijuana laws are preempted by federal law, and the California and United States Supreme Courts denied San Diego's requests for review.

States have recognized marijuana's medical value and have either passed laws through their legislatures or adopted them by initiative. In support of the states that have taken responsibility for the health and welfare of their people by implementing medical marijuana laws, ASA is fighting for states' rights to pass and enforce their own laws, regardless of federal law.

California State Agencies Must Enforce Medical Marijuana Law

Under our federalist system of government, the states, rather than the federal government, are entrusted to exercise a general police power for the benefit of their citizens. Due to this constitutional division of authority between the federal government and the states, the State of California may elect to decriminalize conduct, such as medical marijuana activity, which remains illegal under federal law. Even if law enforcement officers take a personal position on any conflict between state and federal law, they are bound by California's Constitution to uphold state law. Under California's medical marijuana laws, patients and caregivers are exempt from prosecution by the State of California, notwithstanding contrary federal law.

In People v. Tilehkooh (2003), the court found that California courts "long ago recognized that state courts do not enforce the federal criminal statutes." The same court also stated "the federal criminal law is cognizable as such only in the federal courts." In People v. Kelly (1869), it was determined that "State tribunals have no power to punish crimes against the laws of the United States as such. The same act may, in some instances, be an offense against the laws of both, and it is only an offense against the State laws that it can be punished by the State, in any event." In 2006, California Attorney General Bill Lockyer clarified the role and responsibility of the state in upholding medical marijuana law. In a case where ASA is assisting a patient in seeking the return of his unlawfully seized medicine, a Superior Court ruled against the patient, claiming that, "[medical marijuana cultivation is] still illegal under federal law." On appeal, Lockyer dismissed the entire federal law argument by stating that, "the continuing prohibition of marijuana possession under federal law" does not come into play. Instead, Lockyer "acknowledges that - both generally and in the specific context of interpreting the Compassionate Use Act - it is not the province of state courts to enforce federal laws." This statement is fully consistent with the declaration of the court of appeal in Garden Grove v. Superior Court (2007) that "it must be remembered it is not the job of the local police to enforce the federal drug laws as such."

Federal Marijuana Law

The federal government regulates drugs through the Controlled Substances Act (CSA) (21 U.S.C. § 811), which does not recognize the difference between medical and recreational use of marijuana. These laws are generally applied only against persons who possess, cultivate, or distribute large quantities of marijuana.

Under federal law, marijuana is treated like every other controlled substance, such as cocaine and heroin. The federal government places every controlled substance in a schedule, in principle according to its relative potential for abuse and medicinal value. Under the CSA, marijuana is classified as a Schedule I drug, which means that the federal government views marijuana as highly addictive and having no medical value. Doctors may not "prescribe" marijuana for medical use under federal law, though they can "recommend" its use under the First Amendment. The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), charged with enforcing federal drug laws, has taken a substantial interest in medical marijuana patients and caregivers in general, and large cultivation and distribution operations more specifically. Over the past few years, dozens of people have been targets of federal enforcement actions. Many of them have either been arrested or had property seized. More than a hundred providers are currently in prison or are facing charges or ongoing criminal or civil investigations for their cultivation or distribution of medical marijuana.

The DEA, like local enforcement agencies, can choose how to make the best use of its time. Ideally, the DEA will leave medical marijuana patients and their caregivers alone. But federal law does not yet recognize medical marijuana, and the DEA is currently allowed to use the Controlled Substances Act to arrest people for its use. In many pending and past cases, the DEA and U.S. Attorney's office have used exaggerated plant numbers and inflammatory rhetoric, as well as informants who trade jail time for testimony, to justify enforcing federal laws against medical marijuana patients and caregivers in California and other states.

Federal marijuana laws are very serious, and punishment for people found guilty is frequently very steep. Federal law still considers marijuana a dangerous illegal drug with no acceptable medicinal value. In several federal cases, judges have ruled that medical marijuana cannot be used as a defense, though defense attorneys should attempt to raise the issue whenever possible during trial. Federal law applies throughout California and the United States, not just on federal property. The key to federal property is that it is more likely than non-federal property to have federal officials monitoring it. Most likely, even if a patient is arrested on federal property and charged with a minor possession offense, he will be referred to the state authorities where he can assert a medical marijuana defense.

There are two types of federal sentencing laws: sentencing guidelines, enacted by the United States Sentencing Commission, and mandatory sentencing laws, enacted by Congress. The Sentencing Commission was created in 1987 to combat sentencing disparities across jurisdictions. The current mandatory minimum sentences were enacted in a 1986 drug bill.

Federal sentencing guidelines take into account not only the amount of marijuana but also past convictions. Not all marijuana convictions require jail time under federal sentencing guidelines, but all are eligible for imprisonment. If convicted and sentenced to jail, a minimum of 85% of that sentence must be served. The higher the marijuana amount, the more likely one is to be sentenced to jail time, as opposed to probation or alternative sentencing. Low-level offenses, even with multiple prior convictions, may end up with probation for the entire sentence of one to twelve months, and no jail time required. Possession of over 1 kg of marijuana with no prior convictions carries a sentence of six to twelve months with a possibility of probation and alternative sentencing. Over 2.5 kg with no criminal record carries a sentence of at least six months in jail; with multiple prior convictions, a sentence might be up to two years to three years in jail with no chance for probation.

In United States v. Booker (2005), a Supreme Court decision from January 2005, the court ruled that the federal sentencing guidelines (as outlined above) are advisory and no longer mandatory. However, many federal judges continue to give great deference to the guidelines.

In addition to the sentencing guidelines, there are statutory mandatory minimum sentences, which remain in effect after United States v. Booker and primarily target offenses involving large amounts of marijuana. There is a five-year mandatory minimum for cultivation of 100 plants or possession of 100kgs, and there is a ten-year mandatory minimum for these offenses if the defendant has a prior felony drug conviction. Cultivation or possession of 1000kg or 1000 plants triggers a ten-year mandatory minimum, with a twenty-year mandatory sentence if the defendant has one prior felony drug conviction, and a life sentence with two prior felony drug convictions. To avoid a five-year mandatory minimum, it is advisable to stay well below 100 plants, including any rooted cuttings or clones.

Other Applicable Laws

School Zones

Patients should avoid possession of marijuana in school zones, as there are typically additional penalties for the possession, use, and cultivation of marijuana near schools, whether it is for medical or recreational use. California patients and caregivers have been the targets of extreme charges and harsh penalties for medical marijuana in these "Drug Free School Zones." These Drug Free School Zone laws can double the maximum sentences in federal court. SB 420 explicitly states that it does not authorize the smoking of marijuana "in or within 1,000 feet of the grounds of a school, recreation center, or youth center, unless the medical use occurs within a residence." SB 420 says nothing about cultivation of marijuana near schools and recreational centers.

Firearms

Firearms can also result in harsher sentencing. "Any person who, during any drug trafficking crime for which the person may be prosecuted in a court of the United States, uses or carries a firearm, or who, in furtherance of any such crime, possesses a firearm, shall:

  1. Be sentenced to a term of imprisonment of not less than 5 years;
  2. If the firearm is brandished, not less than 7 years; and
  3. If the firearm is discharged, not less than 10 years."

Although the U.S. Constitution confers a right to carry firearms, we have seen many patients face extreme legal consequences for having firearms in addition to plants. ASA strongly advises that if you are a medical marijuana patient, do not carry or keep firearms on your property.

Civil Asset Forfeiture

Federal law provides for the forfeiture of property and profits obtained through or used in the commission of felony drug offenses. Prosecutors are encouraged to include forfeiture offenses in all drug indictments. This can apply to landlords who rent to people considered in violation of federal law, and therefore could be used against the landlords of patients who cultivate or use their medicine on the premises.

Employment Law

Some employers retaliate against medical marijuana patients for failing a drug test, due to marijuana usage outside the workplace. The consequences may include a decision not to hire or to terminate the employment of the patient. On January 24, 2008, the California Supreme Court issued a published decision in Ross v. Ragingwire Telecommunications, Inc. (2005), denying a qualified medical marijuana patient any remedy for being terminated from his/her employment simply for testing positive for marijuana. ASA has since sponsored legislation, introduced by Assemblyman Mark Leno, that would overturn the Ross decision and restore employment rights to medical marijuana patients. That legislation passed both chambers of the California Legislature, but was vetoed by Governor Schwarzenegger.

Prior to the Ross decision, ASA had successfully challenged employers' decisions to deny unemployment benefits to patients who were fired for testing positive for marijuana in an employment drug test. Because the denial of unemployment benefits requires willful disregard of a known employment standard, the Ross decision does not rule out the possibility of collecting unemployment benefits. 

Landlord/Tenant Law

Signing a lease means you have read and understand the requirements of the legal contract. Most leases contain specific clauses limiting your landlord's access to the rental property. However, with proper notice, landlords can inspect the property for maintenance needs and to assure you are in compliance with the lease. Closely inspect this clause of your lease and be ready to comply.

Landlords may only enter your premises without permission in the case of an emergency, unless you run a business that is open to the public. Any attempt by your landlord or maintenance personnel to enter your residence without meeting the terms stated in the lease should be firmly but politely refused. Attempts to exclude any person listed on the lease should be immediately reported to your attorney, as your landlord has no right to exclude you from the premises without going through proper eviction proceedings.

Some leases may include prohibitions on use, cultivation and distribution of controlled substances, which likely includes medical marijuana. To avoid confrontation and hassle, be a good neighbor, and quietly go about meeting your medical marijuana needs.

Child Custody Issues

Sadly, being a parent who is a medical marijuana patient can be a scary thing. Across the state, Child Protective Services (CPS) agents enter the homes of qualified medical marijuana patients, remove their children, and require the parents to take unnecessary drug therapy courses solely based on their status as medical marijuana patients. Also, the issue of one's status as a qualified patient is used by some spouses against the other in child custody disputes. ASA takes these issues very seriously, and is working on strategies to better protect medical marijuana patient-parents. In the meantime, here are some precautions that patients can take to demonstrate to CPS that their use of medical marijuana has not affected their ability to be good parents.

  • Keep all marijuana out of plain sight, ideally in clearly labeled medicinal jars and with other prescription medications, in a place that small children cannot access. If you choose to cultivate, secure the garden in a locked room or devise another way to deny access to children.
  • If you cook with marijuana, clearly label any resultant food products as medicinal, and keep them similarly far away from any children's food.
  • Use discretion when medicating, and do not do so when children are present or in the view of persons who might be looking for a reason to report you to CPS.
  • If your children can understand, explain to them that the marijuana is your medicine and that is not for them (like any other prescription medication). Furthermore, let them know that it is a private matter, like any other medical information.
  • In a dual-parent-patient household, work out a routine with your partner where one parent is always unmedicated in case any unexpected issues arise.
  • Never drive with your children in the car after medicating.
  • You have no reason to inform CPS that you are a medical marijuana patient, unless directly asked. Do not volunteer such information without cause.

Refusal of Service

Another problem facing medical marijuana patients is being refused admission or service because of their status as medical marijuana patients or because of their use of medicine on private property. For instance, medical marijuana patients have been kicked out of amusement parks and convention centers. Always remain calm, explain that you are a legal medical marijuana patient under California law, and that it is illegal to discriminate against you because of your status as a patient. Contact ASA if you need assistance responding to a refusal of service.

Driver's Licenses

ASA had received several reports of the DMV suspending or revoking driver's licenses from medical marijuana patients based solely on their status as such. In 2009, through litigation, ASA forced the DMV to issue a new written policy treating medical marijuana use like other prescription drugs.

Driving Under the Influence

Notwithstanding California's medical marijuana laws, it remains illegal to drive under the influence of marijuana, as it is illegal to drive under the influence of some prescription medications. A trend in law enforcement has been for police to stop drivers, find marijuana and, after realizing that possession charges will be futile, the officer will often charge patients with DUI as a last resort, even when the patient has not medicated for a long time. These are much more complicated cases, and require more individual attention. If you have been involved in one of these situations, please see: http://www.AmericansForSafeAccess.org/ca_criminal_matters_court_and_charges

Travel

Under California law, a qualified patient with a California recommendation may only possess, cultivate and transport medicine in California. A California recommendation does not provide an affirmative defense in other states (except in Michigan, Montana, and Rhode Island), so do not bring your medicine across state lines with an expectation of legal protection. Also, DO NOT bring your medicine to the airport (even if you are flying within California). Federal Transportation Security Administration (TSA) employees will screen you and, upon finding your medicine, they may turn you over to local authorities for state charges.

Becoming a Legal Patient

The CUA allows seriously ill people to legally grow and use marijuana as medicine. In order to qualify under California law, a patient must have a doctor's recommendation or approval. A doctor may recommend or approve the medical use of marijuana for any condition for which it provides relief.

Ask Your Regular Doctor for a Recommendation

Be forthright with your doctor. There is nothing wrong with using medical marijuana or discussing it with your doctor. A federal court has ruled that, under the First Amendment, doctors may not be punished for recommending medical marijuana.

  • Ask for a written recommendation. Although an oral one is acceptable, it is difficult to verify. A written recommendation is more helpful in defending oneself against criminal charges.
  • Tell your doctor specifically what condition or symptoms you treat with marijuana. Honestly describe the amount of marijuana you use, how often, and by what delivery method.
  • When recommending quantities of marijuana for medicinal use, doctors may recommend a certain amount based on your need and experience with what works. If this amount is above the state minimum or local guidelines, doctors do not need to specify an amount; they only need to note that a patient requires more to meet their medical need than the guideline amount for that jurisdiction.
  • If your doctor does not issue medical marijuana recommendations, you may need to visit a medical marijuana specialist.

Medical Marijuana Specialists

There are a number of California physicians and clinics available for medical marijuana consultations. Before consulting a medical marijuana specialist, patients should already have medical records of diagnosis and treatment or a physician referral. You can find a listing of some specialists at http://www.canorml.org. Be aware that:

  • The doctor will want to see your medical records.
  • It can cost more than $100 to see a medical marijuana specialist.
  • Paying the money does not guarantee that you will get a recommendation.

If you have more questions on how to become a legal patient, contact ASA or see: http://www.AmericansForSafeAccess.org/becoming_a_patient_in_california

Becoming a Legal Caregiver

Health and Safety Code 11362.5, the California medical marijuana law, protects patients and their primary caregivers from prosecution for marijuana law violations. By state law, a designated caregiver is allowed to possess, manufacture, and provide marijuana, in all its varieties and forms, for the patient in his/her care. The caregiver is not allowed to use this marijuana for his/her personal use, nor can s/he provide this medicine to non-qualified patients.

There is no official registration system to become a caregiver for a medical marijuana patient, so it is a good idea to draft an agreement yourselves. This can be an oral or written agreement in which the patient designates you as his/her "primary caregiver." A sample agreement can be found Here. At this time, you should discuss the needs of your patient, related to both medical marijuana and other care, decide a plan of action, and then get to work.

The role of caregiver is more clearly defined in the law's text as an "individual designated by the person exempted under this section who has consistently assumed responsibility for the housing, health, or safety of that person." The courts have strictly construed this definition to require caregivers to assist patients in matters of personal health and well-being beyond the mere provision of medical marijuana.

Obtaining Medical Marijuana for Qualified Patients

Even though the CUA encourages "federal and state governments to implement a plan to provide for the safe and affordable distribution of marijuana to all patients in medical need of marijuana," no such well-defined plan exists. Until such time as it does, patients may use collectives or cooperatives to obtain their medicine. SB 420 explicitly allows for medical marijuana collectives and cooperatives, and nothing in state law prohibits collectives and cooperatives from dispensing as part of their operation.

The following models have developed since the passage of the CUA and SB 420:

  1. The Cooperative Model seeks to combine the efforts of patients and caregivers, as the two groups work together to educate the public and grow marijuana. Each individual involved is expected to give what he or she can to the endeavor. In return, the cooperative offers its members safe access to medical marijuana, often at no cost. While caregivers can be part of a cooperative, none need to participate for a cooperative to be viable. It should be noted that cooperatives are entities defined by state law, and that law must be consulted and followed before a cooperative is formed.

 

  1. The Collective Model is considered very similar to the Cooperative Model, with the difference being that state law does not define collectives.

 

  1. The Collective Dispensing Model is perhaps the most commonly used model across the state. Due to the conflict between state and federal law, specifically with regard to "distribution," ASA encourages caution when implementing such a model. From a patient's standpoint, this model is the most simple mechanism through which the patient can receive medical marijuana. Each dispensary maintains its own membership of legally qualified patients, and those members are allowed safe access to marijuana. A Collective or Cooperative Dispensary with patient services is a more comprehensive model. Using this model, the dispensary does not simply provide its members the opportunity to secure marijuana, but it also offers other services to meet the needs of the patient's general well being. At these facilities, health-care providers may offer services, such as peer counseling, hospicestyle care, classes on various topics like cultivation, as well as other special events benefiting patients.

Attorney General Guidelines

On August 25, 2008, the Attorney General of California issued comprehensive guidelines concerning medical marijuana. Among its other provisions, the Guidelines make clear that storefront dispensaries may operate legally under California law, so long as they do not operate for profit and follow other applicable regulations. 

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.