SACRAMENTO --- The California Third District Court of Appeal issued a landmark ruling today on the right under state law of patients to collectively cultivate. The 2-1 appellate court decision stems from the case County of Butte v. Superior Court involving a private medical marijuana collective of 7 patients in Paradise, California.
The nationwide advocacy group Americans for Safe Access (ASA) filed a lawsuit in May 2006 on behalf of 56-year-old David Williams and six other collective members after a 2005 warrantless search of his home. Williams was forced by the Butte County Sheriff to uproot more than two-dozen plants or face arrest and prosecution. Contrary to state law, which allows for collective cultivation, Williams was told by the Sheriff that it was not lawful to grow collectively for multiple patients.
"This ruling by the California Courts sends yet another strong message to state law enforcement that they must abide by the medical marijuana laws of the state and not the competing federal laws," said Joe Elford, ASA Chief Counsel and the attorney that litigated the case on behalf of Williams. Today's appellate court ruling affirmed this position by concluding that, "the deputy was acting under color of California law, not federal law. Accordingly, the propriety of his conduct is measured by California law."
The appellate court also stated that to deny patients protection from warrantless intrusions and seizures by law enforcement "would surely shock the sensibilities of the voters who approved [Proposition 215]." Especially worthy of note is the appellate court's assertion that the Compassionate Use Act of 1996 is not simply an affirmative defense to criminal sanctions, but "...we see an opportunity for an individual to request the same constitutional guarantee of due process available to all individuals, no matter what their status, under the state Constitution. The fact that this case involves medical marijuana and a qualified medical marijuana patient does not change these fundamental constitutional rights or an individual's right to assert them."
Today's appellate court decision upholds Butte County Superior Court Judge Barbara Roberts' ruling from September 2007, in which she states that seriously ill patients cultivating collectively "should not be required to risk criminal penalties and the stress and expense of a criminal trial in order to assert their rights." Judge Roberts' ruling also rejected Butte County's policy of requiring all members to physically participate in the cultivation, thereby allowing collective members to "contribute financially."
Even in his dissenting opinion, Court of Appeal Judge James Morrison stated that, "the United States Congress should reconsider its refusal to amend the federal drug laws to make reasonable accommodation for the 13 states that have enacted some form of compassionate use exception to their penal codes."
ASA was compelled to file the Williams lawsuit after receiving repeated reports of unlawful behavior by Butte County law enforcement, as well as by other police agencies throughout the state. After uncovering Butte County's de facto ban on medical marijuana patient collectives, ASA decided to pursue the case to show that collectives and cooperatives are protected under state law. "In addition to protecting patients' right to collectively cultivate, the Court has reaffirmed that medical marijuana patients enjoy the same constitutional rights as everyone else, including the ability to file civil rights actions when those rights are violated," continued Elford.