The medical marijuana program currently implemented in California was set into motion with the passing of Proposition 215. Known as the Compassionate Use Act of 1996, Proposition 215 was voted into existence on November 5, 1996 on the strength of a 55 percent majority vote.
Proposition 215 basically added Section 11362.5 to the existing Health and Safety Code of California. The modification essentially allowed individuals with serious illnesses such as cancer, AIDS, glaucoma, arthritis, and migraines to obtain or cultivate, and use marijuana for medical reasons upon the recommendation of a physician. The proposition also freed doctors from any criminal or civil liability for recommending marijuana to patients, and encouraged the cooperation between federal and state government agencies in the implementation of a plan that would provide safe and affordable marijuana distribution to patients who need it. Proposition 215 exists independently of federal law, under which marijuana cultivation and processing is still considered illegal.
Proposition 215 has been the subject of criticism from various sectors due to supposedly vague wording. However, the law has since undergone revisions and clarifications by way of Supreme Court rulings and later laws that were passed. In January of 2010, a Supreme Court ruling determined the illegality of amendments made to Prop 215. As a result of this ruling, California essentially lifted all limitations on the possession, use, and cultivation of medical marijuana in the state. At present, California residents are allowed to grow as much marijuana as they need for personal use if they have the recommendation of a physician.
In November 2010, a bill was proposed that would place marijuana in the same legal category as alcohol. Called Proposition 19, the bill essentially made the cultivation and possession of marijuana legal for individuals over 21 years of age. Proponents of the bill claim that it would free up considerable revenue for the state and eliminate the illegal cultivation of marijuana on public property. This itself would help prevent the public from encountering illegal marijuana growers and getting into accidents causes by booby traps set by illegal marijuana growers. Proposition 19 would also free up resources that could be put to better use in going after dealers of more dangerous illegal drugs.
The Medical Marijuana Protection Act
In 2003, Governor Gray Davis signed California Senate Bill 420 into law. Also called the Medical Marijuana Protection Act, the bill was intended to distinguish medical marijuana patients from non-patients. Among other measures, this bill sought to establish a medical marijuana ID card system. Bill 420 also mandated the establishment of collectives for medical marijuana patients, essentially providing them with a safe and effective means to obtain marijuana.
Patients may obtain these ID cards through the Medical Marijuana Program of the state’s Department of Public Health office. The program was launched in May 2005 in three counties and was implemented throughout California by August 2005. By December 2009, more than 37,200 cards have been issued in 55 California countries. Since the legalization of medical marijuana in California, twelve other states in the country have implemented their own versions of the medical marijuana laws.