Research indicates that marijuana has a broad range of clinical applications.
Currently, some healthcare providers recommend it for everything from
anxiety and pain relief, to appetite stimulation for patients with AIDS-related
wasting syndrome. Sixteen states and Washington, D.C. have legalized the
medicinal use of marijuana. In general, these laws remove the criminal
penalties for the use, possession and cultivation of a limited amount
of marijuana when recommended by a doctor for a medical condition. However,
U.S. federal law prohibits the use of marijuana for any purpose. Therefore,
a person can be prosecuted in federal court for using medical marijuana,
even if the use is legal in the person's state.
Medical Marijuana Law in California
A combination of California laws give doctors the ability to legally prescribe
marijuana to "qualified" patients for medicinal purposes --
The Compassionate Use Act (also referred to as Prop 215) and the Medical
Marijuana Program Act (MMPA). According to California Health & Safety
Code sections 11362.5 and 11362.7-11362.83, a "qualified patient"
is a person whose doctor has determined that marijuana would provide relief
from the symptoms of the person's illness. The laws list a number
of different illnesses (e.g., cancer, chronic pain), but also allow medical
marijuana treatment for any "illness for which marijuana provides
relief." A qualified patient and his or her caretaker can legally
use, possess, grow, transport and/or distribute limited amounts of marijuana.
A valid Medical Marijuana Identification Card (MMIC) protects the card
carrier from being arrested and having his or her medical marijuana confiscated.
California is one of the limited number of states that allow patients and
their caretakers to form collectives and cooperatives for the cultivation
and distribution of medical marijuana. However, in 2011, medical marijuana
dispensaries throughout California were raided during coordinated attacks
by agents of the U.S. Federal government. Dispensary owners and workers
were arrested and charged with violating federal drug laws.
Medical Marijuana Penalties
A person whose use, possession, cultivation or distribution of medical
marijuana does not comply with the medical marijuana laws can be prosecuted
as though the activities were being conducted for the recreational and
illegal use of the drug. In California, penalties range from a citation
(like a traffic ticket) to seven years in state prison. Additionally a
person who violates the MMPA (e.g., fraudulently using or producing a
medical marijuana identification card) can be sentenced to up to 6 months
in the county jail and/or a maximum fine of $1,000 for a first offense.
Subsequent offenses can result in a one year sentence in the county jail,
and/or a maximum fine of $1,000.