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Medical Marijuana

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.