Medical marijuana was legalized in California under the Compassionate Use Act of 1996. The Act allows individuals suffering from debilitating medical conditions and diseases such as cancer, AIDs, chronic pain, and glaucoma to use Medical Cannabis to relieve their symptoms without fear of criminal prosecution from state or local authorities within the state of California. The Act also extends this protection to patient caregivers. It is important for caregivers to know that while Medical Cannabis has been legalized at the state level, it remains illegal at the federal level, so those who possess marijuana can still be arrested and charged by federal authorities. Patients and caregivers should read California’s state laws for themselves and seek advice from medical marijuana attorneys if they have any questions. This section only gives an overview of what caregivers need to know about medical marijuana in California. As laws vary from state to state, be sure to check what applies to your local area. Under California law, a caregiver is a person who is responsible for the housing, health, and/or safety of a patient. By definition, caregivers must be legal adults aged 18 or older, though there are some exceptions, and have significant responsibility for managing the well-being of the patient who has been diagnosed with a debilitating condition. According to the case of People v. Mentch (2008), primary caregivers must “prove at a minimum that he/she (1) consistently provided caregiving, (2) independent of any assistance in taking medical marijuana, (3) at or before the time he/she assumed responsibility for assisting with medical marijuana.” Simply supplying marijuana & instructing a patient on the use of medical marijuana does not qualify a person as a caregiver. Medical marijuana caregivers may assist more than one patient who is using medical marijuana, but if they are assisting more than one medical marijuana patient they must reside in the same county as all of their patients. Caregivers who have registered with the California Medical Marijuana Program may grow, transport, and cultivate medical marijuana on behalf of their patients, but may not use the medical marijuana themselves unless they, too, are qualified patients.
The amount of marijuana a caregiver can have is subjected to the same laws and local ordinances as patients of medical marijuana. The baseline standard in California, according to SB 420, is that caregivers may have 6 mature or 12 immature plants and 8 oz. of dried cannabis per patient. Individual cities and counties may allow greater amounts but cannot limit it to less than statewide guidelines. In addition, under Prop. 215, if a patient’s medical condition requires a greater amount of marijuana for effective treatment, the amount determined by a qualifying physician can be allowed, and this amount would apply to the caregiver as well. California state law does not require patients to register with the state to use and grow medical marijuana; patients only need to have a physician’s recommendation. However, in cases where a patient is using a caregiver who will be handling medical marijuana, both the patient and caregiver must register with the California Medical Marijuana Program. The MMP is a voluntary registration process that helps law enforcement verify the authenticity of a patient or caregiver’s registration card, and gives registered individuals the authorization to possess, grow, and use medical marijuana. In order to receive a medical marijuana identification card (MMIC), patients and caregivers must apply in person through their appointed county office and provide the following documents:
- completed MMIC application
- copy of medical records, including the patient’s physician’s recommendation for medical marijuana
- photo identification for both parties
- proof of residence, such as a utility bill, for both parties
- MMIC application fee
For situations where a patient cannot make an in person appearance, caregivers should check with their county program for special accommodations. State law requires caregivers to obtain an MMIC in order to assist their patients with the use, transportation, and cultivation of medical marijuana in California. An MMIC protects the caregiver from criminal prosecution for the possession and transport of medical marijuana for their patient(s) at the state and local levels as long as all state and local ordinances regarding medical marijuana are being followed. A caregiver who has not obtained a valid MMIC may be arrested and charged for possession by state or local authorities, even if their activities would otherwise be legal under California medical marijuana laws. As mentioned above, patients and caregivers should check the statutes in their area to make sure that they are following all applicable local laws.