Proposition 215, also known as the Compassionate Use Act of 1996, was a California ballot proposition on the November 5, 1996 ballot regarding medical use of marijuana. It passed with 5,382,915 (55.6%) votes in favor and 4,301,960 (44.4%) against.
The proposition was a state-wide voter initiative. It allows patients with a valid doctor’s recommendation, and the patient’s designated Primary Caregivers, to possess and cultivate marijuana for personal medical use, and has since been expanded to protect a growing system of collective and cooperative distribution. The Act added Section 11362.5 to the California Health and Safety Code. This law has caused much conflict in the United States between states’ rights advocates and those who support a stronger federal presence.
In 1995, the Californians for Compassionate Use was organized, Proposition 215, a PAC dedicated to putting medical marijuana on the ballot. Californians for Compassionate Use began a grassroots, volunteer-based petition drive to collect the more than 400,000 signatures required to qualify for the ballot. Proposition 215 passed with 55.6% support, setting off a chain reaction across North America of medical marijuana legislation.
Protections afforded by Proposition 215
Proposition 215 added Section 11362.5 to the California Health and Safety Code, which Exempts patients and defined caregivers who possess or cultivate marijuana recommended by a physician from criminal laws which otherwise prohibit possession or cultivation of marijuana. Provides physicians who recommend use of marijuana for medical treatment shall not be punished or denied any right or privilege. Declares that the measure is not be construed to supersede prohibitions of conduct endangering others or to condone diversion of marijuana.
Proposition 215 added Section 11362.5 to the California Health and Safety Code, which exempts patients and defined caregivers who possess or cultivate marijuana recommended by a physician from criminal laws which otherwise prohibit possession or cultivation of marijuana. Provides physicians who recommend use of marijuana for medical treatment shall not be punished or denied any right or privilege. Declares that the measure is not be construed to supersede prohibitions of conduct endangering others or to condone diversion of marijuana.
In March of 2009 federal officials announced that they would no longer try to thwart medical marijuana distribution/use in California.
During his campaign, President Barack Obama signaled that he would cease the DEA’s raids in California as President. On March 18, 2009, President Obama made good on this promise when Attorney General Eric Holder announced “a shift in the enforcement of federal drug laws, saying the administration would effectively end the Bush administration’s frequent raids on distributors of medical marijuana.”
California Senate Bill 420
California Senate Bill 420 (colloquially known as the Medical Marijuana Program Act) was a bill introduced by John Vasconcellos of the California State Senate, and subsequently passed by the California State Legislature and signed by Governor Gray Davis. It clarified the scope and application of California Proposition 215, also known as the Compassionate Use Act of 1996, and established the Medical SB 420, which reflects a compromise between patients’ advocates and law enforcement, includes controversial state guidelines regarding how much marijuana patients may grow and possess without being subject to arrest. It also requires counties to implement a voluntary patient identification card system and other provisions to protect patients and their caregivers from arrest. The guidelines, which were hotly disputed by California NORML and other patients’ advocates, allow patients up to 6
mature or 12 immature plants and up to one-half pound of dried, processed marijuana. Patient advocates had pushed for more liberal guidelines, such as those adopted by Sonoma County, which allow up to 99 plants in a 100-square-foot (9.3 m2) growing area plus 3 pounds of marijuana. The final guidelines were decided in a last-minute legislative deal by Attorney General Lockyer and Sen. Vasconcellos in order to get the bill passed.
In recognition of the fact that the guidelines are inadequate for many very ill patients, SB 420 allows patients to be exempted from them if they obtain a physician’s statement that they need more. In deference to local autonomy, SB 420 also allows counties and cities to establish higher - but not lower - guidelines if they so choose. As a result, the new law will not overturn liberal guidelines that are now in effect in Sonoma and elsewhere. However, it should force more restrictive counties, such as San Bernardino and Fresno, which have heretofore had “zero tolerance” policies, to honor the new statewide minimum standard. Many counties have increased the limits of possession and cultivation since the passage of the law in 2003.
Identification cards under the new state program are issued by county health departments. There are registration fees to cover the costs of the program. Registrations will be valid for one year. There will be a 24-hour telephone hot-line by which law enforcement can verify the validity of the cards. The system is designed with safeguards to protect patient privacy like the current San Francisco and Oakland ID card system. Police will not be able to identify whether persons are medical marijuana patients by their name or address, but only by a unique identification number appearing on their card. Although some patient advocates have expressed qualms about the privacy of the new identification system, California NORML recommends that patients register to protect themselves from arrest. Similar ID card programs have been in effect in other states for several years, with no reports of abuse.
Persons designated as “primary caregivers” are also eligible for ID cards. Each patient may designate a single caregiver. Caregivers may receive reasonable compensation for their services. However, cultivation or distribution “for profit” are not authorized. In a quirky provision, SB 420 forbids caregivers from having more than one patient unless all of them reside in the same “city or county” as the caregiver. This means that no one may be a caregiver for both a spouse and a parent if they happen to reside in different counties.
In other provisions, SB 420:
Recognizes the right of patients and caregivers to associate collectively or cooperatively to cultivate medical marijuana. Disallows marijuana smoking in no smoking zones, within 1,000 feet (300 m) of a school or youth center (except in private residences), on school buses, in a motor vehicle that is being operated, or while operating a boat. Protects patients and caregivers from arrest for transportation and other miscellaneous charges not covered in 215. Allows probationers, parolees, and prisoners to apply for permission to use medical marijuana; however, such permission may be refused at the discretion of the authorities. Makes it a crime to fraudulently provide misinformation to obtain a card, to steal or misuse the card of another, to counterfeit a card, or to breach the confidentiality of patient records in the card program.
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