Friday, July 19, 2002
Justices Grant Medical Marijuana Users Some Immunity From Prosecution
From Staff and Wire Service Reports
California’s medical marijuana laws do not immunize users from arrest, but they do allow qualified users to present a medical defense at trial or to avoid trial altogether by moving to set aside their indictment, the state Supreme Court ruled yesterday.
In a ruling that clarifies application of Proposition 215, approved by California voters in 1996.
Santa Clara University School of Law Professor Gerald Uelman, who argued the case on behalf of a Tuolomne County defendant, said the case requires courts and law enforcement officials to treat qualified users of medical marijuana the same as any prescription drug user.
“They ruled that medical marijuana is medicine in California,” Uelman said. “You don’t have a lower legal standard than if you had a prescription for another medicine.”
People who use medical marijuana and are arrested on drug charges can use their status in their defense before a trial starts, and if their cases do go to trial, the burden to show they have valid prescriptions is reduced, the court ruled. The ruling also applies to primary caregivers of medical marijuana users.
State Attorney General Bill Lockyer, who’s office prosecuted the case, also applauded the decision.
“As a supporter of Proposition 215, I believe that the court’s decision strikes an appropriate balance in helping to ensure that truly needy patients whose doctors have recommended medical marijuana to alleviate pain and suffering related to serious illnesses will have access to this medicine under California law,” he said in a written statement.
California was the nation’s first state to approve medical marijuana in 1996 with the passage of Proposition 215, the Compassionate Use Act. Nonetheless, the U.S. Supreme Court said last year that it’s illegal to sell or possess marijuana for medical use.
The ruling stems from the arrest and conviction of Myron Mower, who uses marijuana to alleviate complications from diabetes. Mower was arrested in 1997 and convicted of possessing and cultivating marijuana.
The appeals court affirmed Mower’s conviction and rejected his argument that his medical marijuana user status gave him complete immunity from prosecution, including from arrest.
The state high court sent the case back to the appeals court, ordering a new trial for Mower.
In its ruling, the state Supreme Court stated that a section of California law “reasonably must be interpreted to grant a defendant a limited immunity from prosecution,” wrote Chief Justice Ronald George for the unanimous court.
But Uelmen said he was disappointed that the court did not address how many plants patients or caregivers could have. The number varies in different counties.
“The number of plants a patient can grow should be the same throughout the state,” Uelmen said.
The case is People v. Mower, S094490.
Copyright 2002, Metropolitan News Company