California Medical Marijuana Laws


California is the first state to legalize medical marijuana.  The Compassionate Use Act of 1996 regulates medical marijuana in California. The Act ensures that  under a physician’s recommendation, seriously ill Californians have the right to obtain and use marijuana  for the treatment of cancer, anorexia, AIDS, chronic pain, spasticity, glaucoma, arthritis, migraine, or any other illness for which marijuana provides relief.  Any qualified patient or patients’ caregivers may possess or cultivate marijuana for personal medical use upon the written or oral recommendation or approval of a physician.  If not for medical purposes, cultivation or processing of marijuana is punishable by up to sixteen months in state prison.  Cal Health & Saf Code § 11362.5 deals with the use of marijuana for medical purposes.

Any qualifying patient cannot possess more than 8 ounces of marijuana at any one time per the Act.  However if a qualifying patient has authorization from a physician that 8 ounces would not be sufficient, then the patient can possess more as authorized by the physician.     

California State Department of Health Services maintains a voluntary identification card program for issuing identification cards to qualified patients.  Each County Health Department or the County’s designee is responsible for providing applications to individuals who are interested in joining the program, process the applications, and maintain records of the program.  The department may issue card to approved applicants and designated primary caregivers. 

To apply for the identification card the patient should submit to the County Health Department all details required by the application along with an application fee.  The required details are:  name of the patient and his/her proof of residence in the county; written documentation from the patient’s attending physician stating that the person has a serious medical condition and he/she may benefit from the use of medical marijuana; name, office address, office telephone number, and California medical license number of the person’s attending physician; name and the duties of the primary caregiver; photo identification card number of the patient and the designated primary caregiver, if one is designated at the time of application.  Application for minors may be submitted by their parent or legal guardian. 

After verifying the information furnished, the Department may approve or deny the application within 30 days of submission.  On approval, a serially numbered registry identification card will be issued to the patient.  The card holder’s designated primary caregiver will also get a card.  The validity of the card is one year from the date of issuance.  The application shall be denied if the applicant has not provided sufficient information, the provided information is falsified or if the applicant does not meet the requirements to be eligible.  Any applicant may not reapply for a period of six months after the denial. 

Valid identification card holders shall not be subject to any penalties for cultivation, delivery, possession, or transportation of medical marijuana within permissible limits.  However, it is not necessary that a person should hold an identification card in order to claim the protections of Section 11362.5.

The Act exempts qualified patients or people with an identification card who transport or process marijuana for his or her own personal medical use, or designated primary care givers who transport, process, administer, or deliver medical marijuana only to the qualified patient or to the person with an identification card from criminal liability.[1]  However, transport and delivery of medical marijuana should be within permissible limits.  Any criminal defendant eligible to use marijuana may make a request to the court to permit the use of marijuana for medical purposes when he/she is on parole, probation or released on bail. 

Any change in the details furnished in the application for the identification cards should be notified to the County Health Department or its designee within seven days of such change.  The qualifying patient should also annually submit the qualifying patient’s updated medical condition as certified by his attending physician, and the name and duties of his/her caregivers.[2]  The card expires if such annual submissions are not made. 

Relevant state law defining qualified patient, and identification card is: 

Cal Health & Saf Code § 11362.7:  Definitions
(f) ”Qualified patient” means a person who is entitled to the protections of Section 11362.5, but who does not have an identification card issued pursuant to this article.

 (g) ”Identification card” means a document issued by the State Department of Health Services that document identifies a person authorized to engage in the medical use of marijuana and the person’s designated primary caregiver, if any.

 [1] Cal Health & Saf Code § 11362.765

[2] Cal Health & Saf Code § 11362.76