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SACRAMENTO – After seven years of legal limbo, the California legislature has acted to clarify and expand the rights of its citizens to obtain, possess and use marijuana for medical purposes, and Governor Gray Davis has now signed it into law.
SB 420 establishes a voluntary patient ID system with a 24/7 call-in number for law enforcement to ensure that patients need not fear arrest or intimidation.It also expressly legalizes the medical marijuana dispensaries which operate openly in many communities, but whose strict legal status under the state initiative on medical marijuana has been questioned.
The Compassionate Use Act of 1996, passed by voter initiative as Prop. 215, made medical use legal in the state, but did not provide a mechanism for implementing the law. Since then, the state has resisted establishing guidelines for law enforcement, doctors or patients, preferring to let municipalities sort it out for themselves in a laboratory of local experiment.
Co-authored by Senator John Vasconcellos and Assemblyman Mark Leno, the new law takes a middle road to statewide implementation, setting baseline plant counts and weight amounts for the state without overriding any of those local standards for the quantity of marijuana an individual patient or caregiver may grow or possess. Anyone with a state-issued card and not more than 6 mature plants (or 12 immature) or 8 ounces of dried marijuana is now to be immune from arrest, regardless of county or city standards.
Under Prop. 215, patients and caregivers are not limited in how much marijuana they may legally possess, and many California counties have established policies reflecting more scientific standards, such as the six pounds a year the U.S. federal Investigational New Drugs program provides its patients. SB420 does not override Prop. 215, and it allows doctors to recommend more than the new guideline amounts, as well as giving the California Attorney General the authority to set higher levels later.
The new law also fixes the distribution problem inherent in the original language of Prop. 215 by expressly legalizing the medical marijuana dispensaries that have been found by state courts not to fit the legal ‘caregiver’ definition of the initiative. While such organizations still face federal threat, they will no longer be reliant on the tacit approval of local officials to get medicine to their patients.
Steph Sherer, Executive Director of American’s for Safe Access, is available today for interviews or comment on California’s new medical marijuana law.
A national coalition of 5,500 patients, doctors and advocates, Americans for Safe Access is the leading organization devoted to medical marijuana.