Pages tagged "Medical Marijuana Program Act"

  • CA Senate approves regulation bill

    Sen. Darrell Steinberg


    The California Senate approved SB 439 on Monday. The bill, which is co-authored by Senate President Pro-Tem Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento) and Senator Mark Leno (D-San Francisco) clarifies the scope of protections offered by the state’s medical cannabis laws and codifies guidelines published by the Attorney General in 2008. SB 439 will formally recognize the right of patients’ cooperatives and collectives to maintain storefront facilities (dispensaries) to provide medicine for members, an interpretation supported by Americans for Safe Access (ASA) since lawmakers adopted the Medical Marijuana Program Act (SB 420) in 2003. The bill also expands protections to employees of patients’ associations and recognizes that members buy their medicine from the associations.



    ASA supports SB 439 because uncertainty about the scope of California’s medical cannabis laws has led to differing interpretations and inconsistency in law enforcement around the state. Some cities and counties regulate and tax storefront facilities, while others ban them outright or turn a blind eye to their operation. Lobbyists for law enforcement are promoting a narrow interpretation of the law, which leaves patients in some jurisdictions without safe, legal, and dignified access to medicine. Patients and lawmakers need more clarity about what is legal in California, and SB 439 is an important step in that direction.

    At a hearing before the Senate Public Safety Committee, President Pro-Tem Steinberg told his colleagues that SB 439 was a starting point. We can expect substantial amendments as the bill moves through one of more committees in the Assembly and on to a final vote on the Assembly floor before September 13. Differences between the Senate and Assembly versions will be resolved in a concurrence committee made up of members of each house. The Governor will have thirty days to sign or veto the bill.

    Advocates must be vigilant and practical in the effort to complete this bill. There are many voices in Sacramento this year trying to influence the outcome. Lobbyists for law enforcement, local government, community groups, and others will be pushing for changes we don’t like. We have to push back and ask for what we want with a unified voice. ASA will be calling on members and friends to be a part of that conversation for the rest of the legislative season. Be sure you are a part of that process by making your voice heard. Sign up for our mailing list to stay informed and find out how you can participate online and face-to-face with lawmakers.

    ASA and our coalition allies at Californians to Regulate Medical Marijuana (CRMM) have developed the Principles of Sensible Medical Cannabis Regulation to help lawmakers understand what we want to see in state regulations. We developed these principles after a year of conversations that started at the California Unity Conference in 2012 and are still ongoing. Constituents took these principles with them to visit dozens of legislative offices at our California Medical Cannabis Policy Summit and Lobby Day May 5-6. If you agree that principles like these make sense, please join ASA and CRMM in asking lawmakers to support them.

    This is going to be a big year for medical cannabis in California. The legislature is determined to do something about the issue, so let’s work together to be sure they do the right thing!

  • Medical Marijuana Patients Missing from California Supreme Court Oral Arguments

    In a highly-publicized and widely-watched medical marijuana case, the California Supreme Court heard oral arguments yesterday on whether municipalities should be able to ban local medical marijuana distribution, an activity deemed legal under state law. For all of the controversy and strenuous arguments made on both sides of the issue, those who stand the most to lose -- medical marijuana patients themselves -- were completely ignored.

    In the case City of Riverside v. Inland Empire Patients Health and Wellness Center, the abstract but quantifiable impact of dispensary bans is that tens of thousands of patients are left without safe and legal access to their medication, mainly as a result of hostile or reluctant local officials. Today, more than 50 localities in California have adopted ordinances regulating the lawful distribution of medical marijuana, while more than 200 of the state’s cities and counties have banned dispensaries outright. For the past 7 years, city councils and county boards of supervisors have passed bans with complete disregard to the impact on their most vulnerable residents.

    From a practical standpoint, patients who live in cities where dispensary bans exist and who cannot grow it themselves or find someone to grow it for them are stuck with an unfortunate dilemma: how to obtain a medication that is legal under state law. Every time a dispensary ban is unreasonably and arguably illegally imposed, hundreds if not thousands of patients wake up the next morning not knowing where they’re going to get the medicine they rely on. These patients are commonly forced to either go without their medication, travel long distances to obtain it, or engage with the illicit market as one of the few alternatives to such distribution prohibitions.

    The California Supreme Court ultimately focused on two issues: whether medical marijuana distribution is protected activity under the scope of California’s medical marijuana law, and, if so, whether local dispensary bans are preempted by state law.

    Much time was spent dissecting the first issue as it relates to the statutory language of the law. Did the Medical Marijuana Program Act (MMPA) passed in 2003 sufficiently spell out the mechanism for lawful distribution in the state? Did the statutory language sufficiently protect such distribution from local bans? Or, did local bans frustrate the purpose of the law, which is to uniformly implement a functional medical marijuana program?

    Little time, however, was spent reviewing existing case law that the High Court at one time or another had the chance to review. Plaintiffs’ counsel, J. David Nick, raised People v. Urziceanu and People v. Colvin, and would likely have raised People v. Jackson if the Justices hadn’t cut him off, to show that the legality of dispensaries was well established. Unfortunately, the City of Riverside’s false claim that no case law existed to substantiate the legality of storefront distribution went unchallenged.

    Some Justices, Judge Goodwin Liu in particular, questioned whether the MMPA was anything more than limited immunity from criminal prosecution. If so, the Court could logically evade the decision of whether cities can ban distribution. The California Supreme Court ruled previously in Ross v. Ragingwire that no right to civil action existed for patients and the City of Riverside missed no opportunity to invoke that decision. However, neither party nor the court raised an important caveat to Ross. In Butte County v. Superior Court, a landmark appellate decision that was denied review by the High Court solidly affirmed the civil rights of patients under state law. The Butte County Court held that the Medical Marijuana Program Act passed in 2003 was not limited to criminal immunities; it also could be applied more broadly in the civil context under certain circumstances.

    Regardless of how the Court rules in Riverside, patients will continue to demand uniform application of the law and a right to safe and legal access to their medicine. The patchwork system that currently exists in the state, with far more municipal bans than regulatory ordinances, has perverted the will of California voters and jeopardized the health and safety of countless patients.

    The California Supreme Court has a chance to assist in the equitable implementation of California’s medical marijuana law. Sensible public health policy dictates that municipal governments should have the right to regulate safe and legal distribution of medical marijuana, but not ban that activity outright. The High Court knows what to do and should take decisive action, ensuring against any further harm resulting from the current haphazard and largely punitive policy on local medical marijuana distribution.
  • California Court of Appeal Issues Mixed Ruling on Medical Marijuana

    Landmark decision denies localities the right to ban dispensaries outright Last week the California Court of Appeal issued another landmark decision on medical marijuana, which is sure to have a far-reaching ripple effect throughout the state. The Fourth Appellate District ruled in City of Lake Forest v. Evergreen Holistic Collective that localities may not pass outright bans on medical marijuana dispensaries, facilities which a majority of Californian patients rely on for their medication. In its 48-page published decision, the Court of Appeal disagreed with the lower court’s ruling that “local governments may impose a per se ban on medical marijuana dispensaries without contradicting state law.” This is the first time an appellate court in California has rejected the argument that local governments can use their land use authority to prohibit medical marijuana dispensaries from operating outright. The court reasoned that SB420, also known as the Medical Marijuana Program Act (MMPA), allows for medical marijuana dispensaries as a matter of statewide concern, so localities cannot simply ban them. The court’s decision brings into question nearly 200 such bans across the state. Unless or until it’s appealed and taken up on review by the California Supreme Court, the Lake Forest case throws a significant wrench into the efforts of medical marijuana opponents and favors the rights of patients to safely and legally obtain their medication. That said, the Lake Forest decision was a mixed bag for the medical marijuana community. Even while agreeing with another recent landmark decision in People v. Colvin, that “a patient or primary caregiver [need not] personally [] engage in the physical cultivation of marijuana” in order to enjoy the protections of California law, the Lake Forest court held that dispensaries must cultivate all of the marijuana they sell on-site.
    [W]e conclude off-site dispensaries are not authorized by California medical marijuana law because nothing in the law authorizes the transportation and possession of marijuana to stock an off-site location.
    Unfortunately, in this regard, the Lake Forest court got it wrong. The MMPA explicitly protects patients from arrest and prosecution for transportation of marijuana when engaged in collective medical marijuana activity.  This part of the court’s decision is not only bad public policy, but has no basis in the law.