Drug Law

Kelly Decision in Calif. Leaves Police Unclear on Medical Marijuana

| by NORML

SAN FRANCISCO (Huffington Post) — No one can say for sure how many dismissals and acquittals have been prompted by the ruling, but the numbers are stacking up since the Supreme Court on Jan. 21 tossed out Patrick Kelly’s marijuana possession conviction.

The high court struck down a 7-year-old state law that imposed an 8-ounce limit on the amount of pot medical users of marijuana could possess. The court said patients are entitled to a “reasonable” amount of the drug to treat their ailments.

Law enforcement officials say the ruling has made the murky legal landscape of marijuana policy in California even more challenging to enforce.

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Still, not all defense attorneys and marijuana advocates are as content with the ruling as [those] who had their criminal cases dropped.

Some argue that clear-cut limits actually would shield medical marijuana patients from law enforcement officials who have a strict interpretation of what constitutes a “reasonable” amount.

“I wish there was a bright line,” said [Los Angeles NORML Executive Director] Bruce Margolin, one of the nation’s most renowned marijuana defense attorneys. “It’s the only protection against arrest.”

If we’re going to have the illogical distinction that people who need marijuana don’t get arrested but people who want marijuana do, then law enforcement cries out for “bright lines” so they can arrest the people who want marijuana.

But the Kelly decision says that the legislature can’t set limits on a citizen-passed initiative; only the citizens can amend it.  So SB 420, the 7-year-old state law, sets eight ounces as a “floor”, below which it can be presumed (but not guaranteed) that a person has a reasonable amount of the cannabis they need.  However, that “reasonable amount” could well be above eight ounces.  It could be eight pounds.  It could be eight tons.  It depends on the definition of “reasonable”.

So here you are, a California police officer and you’ve just pulled over somebody with eighty pounds of marijuana in the trunk and a medical marijuana recommendation in their hand.  Hard core felon?  Or reasonable medical marijuana patient?  Well, your job is to arrest hard core felons, not to interpret state Supreme Court decisions, and eighty pounds is way over eight ounces.

Now, of course, NORML believes all adults who need or want cannabis should be allowed to have it, and that cannabis should be a legal commodity for cultivation, distribution, and sale among adults.  Like any agricultural product, it should be subject to regulation and taxation* if you want to grow it commercially, and like the tomatoes and cucumbers in your home garden, it should be ignored by government if you want to grow it for your own use.

Until marijuana is legal for all adults, those who need it as medicine will always be second-class patients, subject to suspicion of the public, over-zealous law enforcement and costly court battles, and targets for criminals who want to supply those who want it.  Police only want “bright lines” to separate the patients from the “criminals”; if we’re no longer “criminals”, no need for “bright lines”.

*Exceptions can be made to assist the medical users – I personally don’t think any medicine or staple foods should ever be taxed.