Although medical marijuana is legal in California, the Federal government can still ruin your day (but probably won’t).
The State of California Law
I wrote a bit about this recently, but this piece includes a bit more historical context. As always, you should consult a California marijuana lawyer before you do anything in this field. Do it right the first time.
On November 6, 1996, voter-enacted Proposition 215 went into effect as California Health & Safety Code 11362.5. The law legalized marijuana possession and cultivation for patients and their designated primary caregivers, and it also made legal personal medical marijuana use given the the recommendation or approval of a California-licensed physician. Then, on January 1, 2004, SB240 went into effect as Health and Safety Code 11362.7-.83. The law does a number of things: it broadened Proposition 215 to transportation and other offenses in certain circumstances, it allows patients to form medical marijuana cultivation “collectives” or “cooperatives,” and it established a voluntary state ID card system to be run through county health departments.
More recently, in 2015, the California Legislature passed the Medical Marijuana Regulation and Safety Act. Known as the MMRSA, the Act established state level (with local approval) permitting for marijuana cultivation and dispensaries. Though the MMRSA went into effect on January 1, 2016, the agencies, information systems, and regulations to actually begin issuing licenses will not be fully set up until January 2018. Before then, local governments can adopt new ordinances to permit or license local businesses in preparation for state licensing. If you currently operate a facility in accordance with state and local laws, you can continue to do so until your license applications are either approved or denied.
Again, navigating these laws is not easy. A California marijuana lawyer is a must.
So Where Does this Leave Federal law?
As of writing, marijuana is still illegal according to the Federal government. Under the U.S. Controlled Substances Act, possession of any marijuana is a misdemeanor and cultivation a felony. The Supreme Court, ruling on Gonzalez v Raich in June 2005, held that under the Commerce Clause of the US Constitution, Congress may criminalize the production and use of homegrown cannabis even if states approve its use for medicinal purposes. Despite this, the Obama administration has made it clear that the Justice Department will not expend resources going after individuals who are acting in compliance with relevant state laws. In a memorandum available on justice.gov, Deputy Attorney General David W. Ogden wrote,
As a general matter, pursuit of these priorities should not focus federal resources in your States on individuals whose actions are in clear and unambiguous compliance with existing state laws providing for the medical use of marijuana.
What’s the Moral?
Stick to the law. If you have questions about the law, talk to a California marijuana lawyer. It should go without saying that there is less risk for patients than for dispensaries, but this is a big industry on the verge of becoming a huge industry and you’re planning to make your career in this space, you will need a California marijuana lawyer’s to help.
As always, let me know if you have any questions!