California's Medical Marijuana Laws & Regulations California's Medical Marijuana Laws & Regulations
California became the first state to enact protections for medical cannabis patients and their primary caregivers when voters approved Proposition 215, the Compassionate Use Act, in 1996. The state’s legislature subsequently passed the Medical Marijuana Program Act in February 2003, establishing a voluntary ID card program and a legal framework for collectives and coops to distribute medical cannabis as well as protections for transporting cannabis. Both measures have been subject to differing legal interpretations, particular in regard to the sale of cannabis through storefront dispensaries, that have been litigated before the California Supreme Court. In September 2015, Califonia Governor Jerry Brown signed three bills the three bills that comprise the Medical Marijuana Regulation and Safety Act (MMRSA), AB 243, AB 266, and SB 643. The passage of MMRSA enables statewide regulation of several aspects of the state's medical cannabis program, including licensing and regulating commercial medical cannabis cultivation, manufacturing, distribution, transportation, sales, and lab testing.
Patients and their caregivers are permitted to legally use, possess, and grow cannabis for medical purposes. The law also protects not-for-profit collective and cooperatives and allows primary caregivers to be reimbursed for the costs of their services.
To be a legal medical cannabis patient in California, you need a recommendation from a licensed physician. California’s medical cannabis law allows doctors to recommend cannabis for any serious or persistent medical condition that may be treatable with cannabis, including AIDS, anorexia, arthritis, cachexia, cancer, chronic pain, glaucoma, migraine, persistent muscle spasms, seizures, and severe nausea.
The legislature has established a voluntary California medical cannabis registry that issues ID cards through each county’s health department. A state-issued ID card is not required to be a legal patient, but it offers protection from arrest for patients in possession of no more than eight ounces of useable cannabis or cultivating no more than six mature or twelve immature plants. Patients and their designated caregivers without a state ID card or those in possession of larger quantities are afforded an affirmative defense, if charged. Patients may cultivate or possess any quantity reasonably necessary for managing their medical condition. Qualified patients on probation or parole may legally use medical cannabis with the consent of their probation or parole officer.
Patients may form not-for-profit collectives and coops to cultivate and distribute medical cannabis. These coops and collectives may operate dispensaries that provide cannabis for sale to qualified patients, but municipalities may restrict or ban the operation of dispensaries in their jurisdiction.
The Compassionate Use Act is a voter initative, passed in 1996, that made California the first state to legalize cannabisfor medical use
This bill was passed in 2004 with the following purpose: "(1) Clarify the scope of the application of the act and facilitate the prompt identification of qualified patients and their designated primary caregivers in order to avoid unnecessary arrest and prosecution of these individuals and provide needed guidance to law enforcement officers. (2) Promote uniform and consistent application of the act among the counties within the state. (3) Enhance the access of patients and caregivers to medical marijuana through collective, cooperative cultivation projects."
This bill amends the Medical marijuana Program Act to specify that nothing in that Section prevents a city or county from "[a]dopting local ordinances that regulate the location, operation, or establishment of a medical marijuana cooperative or collective."
This bill prevents any medical cannabis cooperative, collective, dispensary, operator, establishment, or provider authorized by law to possess, cultivate, or distribute medical cannabis that has a storefront or mobile retail outlet which ordinarily requires a local business license shall be located within a 600-foot radius of any public or private school providing instruction in kindergarten or grades 1 to 12.
The Medical Marijuana Regulation and Safety Act (3 bills)
Three separate bills comprise the Medical Marijuana Regulation and Safety Act (MMRSA) – AB 243, AB 266, and SB 643. Each deals with different aspects of licensing and regulating commercial medical cannabis cultivation, manufacturing, distribution, transportation, sales, and testing.
Requires the Department of Food and Agriculture, the Department of Pesticide Regulation, the State Department of Public Health, the Department of Fish and Wildlife, and the State Water Resources Control Board to promulgate regulations or standards relating to medical marijuana and its cultivation, as specified. Also requires various state agencies to take specified actions to mitigate the impact that marijuana cultivation has on the environment. By requiring cities, counties, and their local law enforcement agencies to coordinate with state agencies to enforce laws addressing the environmental impacts of medical marijuana cultivation, and by including medical marijuana within the Sherman Act, the bill imposes a state-mandated local program.
This bill requires a state licensing authority to charge each licensee under the act a licensure and renewal fee, as applicable, and would further require the deposit of those collected fees into an account specific to that licensing authority in the Medical Marijuana Regulation and Safety Act Fund, which this bill establishes. It imposes certain fines and civil penalties for specified violations of the Medical Marijuana Regulation and Safety Act, and requires moneys collected as a result of these fines and civil penalties to be deposited into the Medical Cannabis Fines and Penalties Account, which this bill would establish within the fund. Moneys in the fund and each account of the fund may be available upon appropriation of the Legislature.
This bill authorizes the Director of Finance to provide an initial operating loan from the General Fund to the Medical Marijuana Regulation and Safety Act Fund of up to $10,000,000, and would appropriate $10,000,000 from the Medical Marijuana Regulation and Safety Act Fund to the Department of Consumer Affairs to begin the activities of the bureau.
This bill enacts the Medical Marijuana Regulation and Safety Act for the licensure and regulation of medical marijuana and would establish within the Department of Consumer Affairs the Bureau of Medical Marijuana Regulation, under the supervision and control of the Director of Consumer Affairs. It requires the director to administer and enforce the provisions of the act. The bill would require the Board of Equalization, in consultation with the Department of Food and Agriculture, to adopt a system for reporting the movement of commercial cannabis and cannabis products. This bill imposes certain fines and civil penalties for specified violations of the act, and would require moneys collected as a result of these fines and civil penalties to be deposited into the Medical Cannabis Fines and Penalties Account.
This bill repeals these provisions upon the issuance of licenses by licensing authorities pursuant to the Medical Marijuana Regulation and Safety Act, as specified, and would instead provide that actions of licensees with the relevant local permits, in accordance with the act and applicable local ordinances, are not offenses subject to arrest, prosecution, or other sanction under state law.
This bill sets forth standards for a physician and surgeon prescribing medical cannabis and require the Medical Board of California to prioritize its investigative and prosecutorial resources to identify and discipline physicians and surgeons that have repeatedly recommended excessive cannabis to patients for medical purposes or repeatedly recommended cannabis to patients for medical purposes without a good faith examination, as specified. The bill requires the Bureau of Medical Marijuana to require an applicant to furnish a full set of fingerprints for the purposes of conducting criminal history record checks. The bill prohibits a physician and surgeon who recommends cannabis to a patient for a medical purpose from accepting, soliciting, or offering any form of remuneration from a facility licensed under the Medical Marijuana Regulation and Safety Act. The bill makes a violation of this prohibition a misdemeanor, and by creating a new crime, this bill would impose a state-mandated local program.
This bill requires the Governor, under the Medical Marijuana Regulation and Safety Act, to appoint, subject to confirmation by the Senate, a chief of the Bureau of Medical Marijuana Regulation. The act requires the Department of Consumer Affairs to have the sole authority to create, issue, renew, discipline, suspend, or revoke licenses for the transportation and storage, unrelated to manufacturing, of medical marijuana, and would authorize the department to collect fees for its regulatory activities and impose specified duties on this department in this regard.
The act requires the Department of Food and Agriculture to administer the provisions of the act related to, and associated with, the cultivation, and transportation of, medical cannabis and would impose specified duties on this department in this regard. The act requires the State Department of Public Health to administer the provisions of the act related to, and associated with, the manufacturing and testing of medical cannabis and would impose specified duties on this department in this regard.
This bill also authorizes counties to impose a tax upon specified cannabis-related activity. Additionally, the bill requires an applicant for a state license pursuant to the act to provide a statement signed by the applicant under penalty of perjury, thereby changing the scope of a crime and imposing a state-mandated local program. It sets forth standards for the licensed cultivation of medical cannabis, including, but not limited to, establishing duties relating to the environmental impact of cannabis and cannabis products. Finally, bill also establishes state cultivator license types, as specified.
Municipalities and counties in CA have chosen in some cases to create their own guidelines to further clarify the 1996 Compassionate Use Act and SB 420. This listing gives up-to-date guidelines for counties that have implemented them.
SB 420, the Medical Marijuana Program Act, left dispensary regulations up to cities and counties. Patient and Caregiver IDs are not mandatory but can be acquired through county Departments of Public Health.
State Court Rulings:
Attorney General Statements and Guidelines:
On April 6, 2005, California Attorney General Bill Lockyer stated 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 was not issued in a formal opinion, but in a footnote of a legal brief. Nonetheless, it clarifies the legal position of the highest authority in California.
- PDF Attorney General Lockyer's Legal Brief which includes the statement above (see footnote  on page 8).
- PDF A list of cases impacted by the AG's statement
In 2008, California Attorney General Jerry Brown issued guidelines for patients, providers and law enforcement. These guidelines reaffirmed the status of storefront facilities operated by patients' cooperatives and collectives.