People are often confused about the medical marijuana laws in California. It’s often assumed that there are no penalties for possessing cannabis in California because the medical program has existed for so long, but this is not the case. In fact, possessing cannabis without a proper license can still carry serious penalties. In order to legally possess cannabis in California, you need to be a registered patient with a signed doctor’s recommendation for medical marijuana.
These signed doctor’s recommendations are very easy to come by, but a slight problem can arise even for properly registered patients when confronted by law enforcement. If you don’t have your paperwork on you at the time you are caught with cannabis, it’s often very difficult or impossible to prove to police that you are legally in possession. Since most people do not carry their doctor’s recommendation around with them, this created a conundrum for police and MMJ patients alike.
Enter the California Marijuana Card. This is a simple ID card that proves the holder is a registered patient or caregiver with the state. This affords legal protection from marijuana-related charges for patients and caregivers who are in compliance with state guidelines. Patients and caregivers can both apply for this card from their county health department, but keep in mind that enrollment is completely voluntary.
Many MMJ patients are worried that registering with state programs could expose them to potential federal arrest. There are fears that the DEA will come after individuals legally complying with their state’s laws by subpoenaing records, raiding clubs, or other methods they have used in the past. For those of you worried about privacy, the system safeguards patient privacy by keeping names and addresses from being stored in the state database. The only information stored or retained is your personal photo and ID number. It’s also impossible for anyone (including your employer) to search the state database for any particular person or record, so your information won’t become public to ruin current or future job opportunities.
Despite these fears, it seems that they rarely if ever come to fruition. The DEA has repeatedly stated that they are not targeting individual patients in compliance with State laws. Thus far, the DEA has taken possession of thousands of patient records in raids of illegally operating cannabis collectives, but no individual patients have been targeted. Now that cannabis laws are relaxing throughout the country, the DEA has stopped aggressively targeting legal marijuana businesses or individuals. In fact, congress recently passed a bill that specifically prevents the DEA from using funds to go after any state marijuana program or individual entity in compliance with local laws.
California state and local police have been trained to recognize and accept the California Marijuana Card. If you ever come in to contact with an officer that will not accept your card, record and report their name and ID number to local authorities.
While it may seem like it’s not necessary to have, it’s highly recommended that you pick up a card for yourself. You may not have ever needed it before, but it only takes one unfortunate run-in with the authorities to ruin your day and cost you a lot of money in court to straighten things out. While patients are not required to register for or possess an ID card, having your card will eliminate the potential of these nasty situations even occurring, and could protect you when you need it most. Since the system for protecting patient privacy seems to be working well, there’s also no need to fear any unintended consequences of registering. Hopefully 2016 will bring legalized recreational cannabis for everyone in California, but until then we must be diligent and protect ourselves any way we can.