California’s Medical Marijuana Program


The medical marijuana program in California officially began in November of 1996. Known as Proposition 215, the law was voted into effect in order to protect physicians and primary caregivers from prosecution for prescribing or administering Cannabis to specific patients. The law was passed by only 56% at the time, although acceptance of the medical uses of the drug continues to gain support.

Legalization of Medical Marijuana in California
The initial law also protected patients who were cultivating their own plants for therapeutic use. However, application was limited, and the following conditions were accepted as valid reasons for use of the drug.

Accepted Medical Conditions:

The passage of the law only protected patients and physicians on a state level, and drug trafficking and possession could still be prosecuted on a federal level. Although within state use and medical distribution was protected, the grey areas of the legislation became a difficult issue over the next decade.

The Impact of Senate Bill 420

In 2004, the original proposition was amended by the Senate, in order to provide better guidelines for patients and physicians, in an effort to protect individuals who gained relief from the drug. This bill offered clearer protocols, with the hope of reducing problems that were experienced from the differences in state and federal legality.

This Bill 420 qualified the possession of medical marijuana to not exceed eight ounces of the dried plant, or six mature plants. This was considered acceptable for personal therapeutic use, and was adopted as a California law. However, municipal and county legislation could override these guidelines somewhat, and allow for larger amounts of the drug to be held by a patient, so long as the medication was prescribed by a physician.

More notably, Bill 420 was the first legal act to offer protection to dispensaries for medical marijuana. Identification cards for the use and possession of the drug also became a protective measure, as this allowed caregivers and patients the access to purchase and have Cannabis. With the greater concessions made for legal distribution, cultivation of medical marijuana on a larger scale also became an accepted practice in the state.

The Medical Marijuana Program

With the passage of Bill 420 and the greater power given to municipalities for the approval of the use of medical marijuana, California’s Department of Health also established the Medical Marijuana Program (MMP)comp. Although this did give the state better access to information for regulation of the drug, it also provided stronger legal protection for patients, physicians, and dispensaries. The program is responsible for maintaining records and monitoring valid use and sale of the plant.

The MMP also began the use of Medical Marijuana Identification Cards (MMIC), in order to regulate the legal possession and sale of the drug. Qualified patients first need to obtain approval from their physician in order to apply for an MMIC, but county health departments are responsible for logging information and issuing the card. This then allows patients to legally purchase and hold marijuana.

Both primary caregivers and patients are allowed to apply for an MMIC, although documentation is required before the card can be issued. For patients, they need to suffer from a qualifying condition and have written recommendation from their doctor that the use of medical marijuana is applicable and beneficial. Although primary caregivers are allowed to have an MMIC, they cannot apply for the card on their own. In these cases, the patient is responsible for obtaining an MMIC for their caregiver, and prior registration for the patient’s card must be on file before this can be done.

MMICs need to be renewed every year, and will require current documentation of condition in order to do so. Although MMICs protect patients within California, the card may be accepted by other states that allow for the legal use of medical marijuana. This cross-over varies by state, and California does not accept MMICs from other states, although a card that is issued in one county is valid throughout California.

Inter-State Concerns

California’s MMP has allowed patients and physicians to stay protected from state prosecution for the therapeutic use of Cannabis, although the program does face some challenges due to the difference in federal and state laws. One highly positive aspect is that the voluntary registration for the program has also been used to further bolster the medical applications of the plant, and the general acceptance of the drug as a positive pharmaceutical for accepted conditions.

However, physicians who prescribe the drug to patients are only protected within California. Since patients who apply for an MMIC require written documentation from their physician, doctors do need to submit recommendations to the Medical Board of California. One concern is that legal action can still be taken on a federal level, even though the state accepts this as a standard procedure.

Generally, the regulation of the MMP does offer greater validation to physicians who do make these recommendations. Typical practices and monitoring by the program adhere to similar guidelines for any schedule drug, in that unethical or illegal behaviors are only identified through over prescribing. This does protect doctors, while also treating the use of the pharmaceutical as it would any other regulated medication.

The MMP in Action

Since the MMP was first established 2004, it has seen considerable success in allowing for therapeutic use of marijuana and protecting patients and doctors who take this course of action. The MMP was initially only in operation in three counties in the state, and the first year of implementation saw registry for 85 MMICs. This has expanded considerably over the past decade, and is expected to continue as more states adopt similar programs.

At present, the MMP is operational in 56 counties throughout California and has issued close to 80,000 MMICs over the intervening years. The program also accepts Medi-Cal patients and recognizes the insurance provider for co-pay. As other state and possible federal policies change, it is expected that the program will continue to evolve.