California Proposition 215, the Medical Marijuana Initiative (1996)

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California Proposition 215, also known as the Medical Use of Marijuana Initiative or the Compassionate Use Act, was on the November 5, 1996 general election ballot in California as an initiated state statute, where it was approved.

The passage of Proposition 215 is considered a significant victory for medical marijuana. It exempts patients and defined caregivers who possess or cultivate marijuana for medical treatment recommended by a physician from criminal laws which otherwise prohibit possession or cultivation of marijuana. Because of Proposition 215, California is one of the fourteen states that allow marijuana for medical uses.[1]

In 2008, twelve years after Proposition 215 passed, the medical marijuana group "Americans for Safe Access" estimated that California had more than 200,000 doctor-qualified medical cannabis users.

In May 2009, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear an appeal of a California state appellate ruling from 2008 that upheld Proposition 215 and concluded that California can decide whether to eliminate its own criminal penalties for medical marijuana regardless of federal law. The appellate ruling came about because of lawsuit against Proposition 215 filed by San Diego and San Bernardino counties. These counties objected to Proposition 215 on the grounds that it requires them, in their view, to condone drug use that is illegal under federal law. They also challenged a law that requires counties to issue identification cards to medical marijuana patients so these patients can identify themselves to law enforcement officials as legally entitled to possess small amounts of marijuana.[2]

Proposition 215 also led to the lawsuit, People v. Kelly. This case was decided in January 2010 by the California Supreme Court, which ruled that the state of California cannot, through the legislative process, impose a state limit on medical marijuana that is more restrictive than what is allowed under Proposition 215. People v. Kelly helps define laws governing the initiative process in California especially as it relates to legislative tampering.[3]

Election results

Proposition 215
Approveda Yes 5,382,915 55.58%

Text of measure



The official ballot summary that appeared on the ballot said:

  • Exempts patients and defined caregivers who possess or cultivate marijuana for medical treatment 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 measure not be construed to supersede prohibitions of conduct endangering others or to condone diversion of marijuana for non-medical purposes.
  • Contains severability clause.

Fiscal impact

The California Legislative Analyst's Office provided an estimate of net state and local government fiscal impact for Proposition 215. That estimate was:

  • Adoption of this measure would probably have no significant fiscal impact on state and local governments."

Aftermath of Prop 215

Medical Marijuana Program Act

In 2004, the California State Legislature the Medical Marijuana Program Act (MMPA). MMPA was intended to clarify which specific practices with regard to medical marijuana were to be considered lawful in the state. The MMPA:

  • Established a voluntary statewide identification card system;
  • Set limits on the amount of medical marijuana each cardholder could possess;
  • Laid out rules for the cultivation of medical marijuana by collectives and cooperatives.

Garden Grove v. Kha

In 2007, the California Fourth Appellate District ruled against the City of Garden Grove, and in favor of a medical marijuana patient (Felix Kha), saying that "it is not the job of the local police to enforce the federal drug laws."

The case resulted from the seizure of medical marijuana from Kha by the Garden Grove police force in June 2005.

Kha was pulled over by the Garden Grove Police Department on June 10, 2005, and cited for possession of marijuana, despite Kha showing the officers proper documentation of his status as a medical marijuana patient.

The charge against Kha was subsequently dismissed, with the Superior Court of Orange County issuing an order to Garden Grove that the city must return to Kha 8 grams of medical marijuana that was seized from him by the police. The police, backed by the city of Garden Grove, refused to return Kha's medicine and the city appealed.

In the 2007 state court decision, the court ruled that the federal Controlled Substance Act of 1970, enacted to combat recreational drug abuse and trafficking, did not intend to regulate the practice of medicine, "a task that falls within the traditional powers of the states."

Before the California Fourth District Court of Appeal issued its decision last year, California Attorney General Jerry Brown filed a "friend of the court" brief on behalf of Kha's right to possess his medicine. The justices noted they were convinced by Brown's arguments that local agencies are bound by state laws in approaching medical marijuana.

The California Supreme Court denied a case review in March 2008, and Garden Grove then went to the U.S. Supreme Court, which turned the case down in late November 2008.

Medical marijuana advocates called the decision a huge victory in clarifying law enforcement's obligation to uphold state law – in this case, Proposition 215.[4]

Federal laws

Some cities in California have adopted ordinances that say that businesses operating within city limits must comply with federal law as well as state and local laws as a way to keep marijuana-growing businesses out of their cities. For example, the city of Lindsay passed a medical marijuana ordinance in January 2006 that says, "Legal Use of Land: No use of land, under this title, shall be permitted within the City Limits if such use shall be in violation of any local, state or federal law."[1]

Sutter County

Sutter County was the 57th of California's 58 counties to authorize the issuance of medical marijuana identification cards under Proposition 215. The county board of supervisors planned in April 2010 to take this step, which is required to bring the county into compliance with state law.[5]

Colusa County, as of June 2010, was the one remaining California county that had not adopted a medical marijuana ID program.[5]

See also

External links