A Common Legal Issue in the Context of Medical Marijuana Litigation

By: Wallin & Klarich

The Issue of Possession of Marijuana for Personal Medical Needs, Versus, Possession of Marijuana for the Needs of Others

Defendant, Nathaniel Archer, was found guilty of cultivation of marijuana in violation of Health and Safety Code section 11358, a felony, and of simple possession of marijuana in violation of section 11357(a). On appeal, the parties were in agreement that the trial court erred when it included the numerical limits set forth in section 11362.77, subdivision (a) of the Medical Marijuana Program Act (MMPA) in instructing the jury regarding the amount of medical marijuana that Archer could lawfully possess and/or cultivate because this section unlawfully amends the Compassionate Use Act (section 11362.5) (CUA) passed by voters in 1996 as Proposition 215. On appeal, the parties disagreed as to whether the error was harmless.

Defendant contented that because he possessed and/or cultivated an amount of marijuana in excess of the numerical limits set forth in section 11362.77, subdivision (a), his convictions were not based on a determination of his medical marijuana needs of and at least two of his “patients” who had designated him as their “primary caregiver” within the meaning of section 11362.5, subdivision (e).

The People argued that because Defendant admitted growing marijuana for at least four other people, in addition to himself, and because as a matter of law he does not qualify as a primary caregiver for the only two qualified patients he identified at trial. The Defendant did not present any evidence to show he was the primary caregiver for any of them, including the two that testified on his behalf at trial. As such, the People argued that the instructional error was harmless beyond a reasonable doubt. The Court agreed.

However, in connection with his conviction for simple possession under section 11357(a), the Court concluded that instructional error of capping the amount of marijuana Archer could lawfully possess was prejudicial. The Court based their decision on the fact that the Defendant was a qualified patient in April 2006. As such, he was entitled to possess an amount of marijuana reasonably related to his own medical needs. The record was silent regarding whether the 1.72 pounds of dried marijuana Defendant possessed was for his own personal medical needs, as opposed to the needs of others.

It is important to note that the Defendant did testify that he was using about a half pound of marijuana each month in the April 2006 timeframe. The Court concluded that it was for the jury to decide whether the 1.72 pounds of marijuana he then possessed was reasonably related to his then own medical needs. As such, the Court reversed Defendant’s conviction for simple possession.

It is essential to speak with a knowledgeable criminal defense attorney when facing drug possession allegations. An attorney will ensure your constitutional rights are protected. If you or someone you love is being investigated or facing criminal charges in California, contact the experienced Southern California criminal defense lawyers at Wallin & Klarich today at 1-888-280-6839 or www.wklaw.com for a consultation of your case. We can help you.

Posted In: Criminal Defense