The California Supreme Court struck down Thursday a law that restricted the amount of marijuana that qualified medical patients could legally possess or cultivate, ruling that only the voters could alter a law passed via the initiative process, not the state Legislature.
The Court unanimously ruled the law that amended the Compassionate Use Act, adopted by voters in 1996 as Proposition 215, was impermissible and invalid under the California Constitution.
Proposition 215 allowed medical patients with a physician’s approval to possess marijuana without fear of state prosecution, which is what most marijuana-possession cases are. The law neither specified a limit on how much a person could possess, nor stated that an unlimited amount was allowed.
The legislation sought to assist law enforcement in marijuana-arrest decisions. It specified that patients could possess no more than 8 ounces of marijuana in dried form. The case was before the court by Patrick Kelly, who was convicted for exceeding the 8-ounce limit of dried marijuana.
The law “impermissibly amends the CUA, and in that respect is invalid,” the unanimous court decided. Chief Justice Ron George noted that the initiative still allowed police to make arrests if they suspect forgery of the medical-permit card or the commission of some other crime, such as trafficking - still a state crime.
Aaron Smith, California policy director for the Medical Marijuana Project, said the organization supports the court’s balancing act.
“There needs to be some threshold there; otherwise, you’re leaving it up to the discretion of law enforcement, who otherwise have no knowledge of people’s medical needs,” he said.
An unidentified spokesman with the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, called it “clear that judges in the general population recognize patients’ need for medical cannabis.”
“Governments arbitrarily intervening between the patient and doctor is not acceptable, and this would be an example of the growing acceptance of medical cannabis,” the spokesman said.
Attempts to obtain responses from the office of California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and from the Foundation for a Drug-Free World, which opposes exemptions to marijuana laws in cases of medical use, were unsuccessful.
The ruling still allows law enforcement to prosecute if probable cause exists. The federal government does not recognize state medical-pot exemptions, but the Drug Enforcement Administration has been told to rein in its pot busts by the Obama administration.