California's Health and Safety code makes it illegal to possess or cultivate of marijuana in sections 11357 and 11358 respectively. However, over the past 20 years, access to marijuana for medical purposes has become increasingly legal through the compassionate use act, the medical marijuana program (MMP), and various landmark cases.
In 1996, the citizens of California voted to pass Proposition 215, which is now known as the Compassionate Use Act (CUA). This act states that “Section 11357... and Section 11358... shall not apply to a patient, or to a patient's primary caregiver, who possesses or cultivates marijuana for the personal medical purposes of the patient upon the written or oral recommendation or approval of a physician.” This act was the first major step toward making medical marijuana accessible to Californian's with medical conditions and is presently the foundation for all legal access to marijuana in California. Yet, as it relates to criminal prosecution, the CUA only allows for a defense at trial.
However, it wasn't long until cases arose which set limits on the new law. The case of People v. Trippet concluded that “the quantity possessed by the patient or the primary caregiver, and the form and manner in which it is possessed, should be reasonably related to the patient's current medical needs.” Thus, the court placed limits on the quantity that patients were allowed to possess, albeit subjective limits. Subsequently, the California legislature passed the Medical Marijuana Program which attempted to place a ceiling on the quantity of cannabis that patients were allowed to possess and made it possible to get an “identification card” which would provide “protection against arrest for certain marijuana related crimes.
Yet, as a result of the landmark case of The People v. Patrick Kelly, the court held that, “to the extent the [MMP] impermissibly amends the CUA by burdening a defense that would be available pursuant to that initiative statute, [MMP] is invalid under California [law].”
Therefore, at the present time, a patient's possession of a prescription for marijuana will act as a defense at trial if the quantity possessed is reasonably related to that patient's prescription. And, possession of a medical marijuana identification card pursuant to the MMP will protect patients from arrests relating to 11357 and 11358 charges.