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. In 2015, the state passed the Medical Marijuana Regulation and Safety Act which consisted of three separate bills.  Each deals with different aspects of licensing and regulating commercial medical cannabis cultivation, manufacturing, distribution, transportation, sales, and testing. These measures have been subject to differing legal interpretations before the California Supreme Court and California Court of Appeal.

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 usable 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. 


Proposition 215, the "Compassionate Use Act"

The Compassionate Use Act is a voter initative, passed in 1996, that made California the first state to legalize cannabisfor medical use

California Senate Bill 420, the Medical Marijuana Program Act

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."

California Assembly Bill 1300

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."

California Assembly Bill 2650

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. 

California County and City Medical Cannabis Laws

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.

Medical Marijuana Program Act 

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.

Medical Marijuana Regulation and Safety Act 

AB 243, AB 266 and SB 643 was passed in 2015 and is collectively known as the Medical Marijuana Regulation and Safety Act.  Each deals with different aspects of licensing and regulating commercial medical cannabis cultivation, manufacturing, distribution, transportation, sales, and testing.

AB 243 requires various state agencies to promulgate regulations or standards relating to the cultivation of medical marijuana.  he bill would also require various state agencies to take specified actions to mitigate the impact that marijuana cultivation has on the environment.  This bill would also impose certain fines and civil penalties for specified violations of the Medical Marijuana Regulation and Safety 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

AB 266 establishes a new Bureau of Medical Cannabis Regulation under the Department of Consumer Affairs. The Bureau is to establish a comprehensive internet system for keeping track of licensees and reporting the movement of commercial cannabis and cannabis products.

SB 643 would, among other things, set 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 would require 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 would prohibit 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 would make a violation of this prohibition a misdemeanor, and by creating a new crime, this bill would impose a state-mandated local program.

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