|Officer, release that plant|
Some rural sheriff's departments still haven't really come to terms with the fact that medical Marijuana is now legal in California, despite having had since 1996 to adjust to the concept. But in a landmark ruling, an appellate court today protected the right of California medical Marijuana patients to collectively cultivate the herb under state law.
The California Third District Court of Appeals issued the 2-1 ruling in the case of County of Butte v. Superior Court, in which seven patients in Paradise, Calif., formed a medical Marijuana collective.
Americans for Safe Access (ASA), a nationwide medical Marijuana advocacy group, filed a lawsuit in May 2006 on behalf of 56-year-old David Williams and six other collective members after a 2005 warrantless search of Williams' home. The Butte County Sheriff's Department forced Williams to uproot more than two dozen Marijuana plants or face prosecution. Deputy Jacob Hancock told Williams that growing collectively for multiple patients was illegal; California state law, in fact, does allow for collective cultivation.
ASA's media liaison, Kris Hermes, said the group "was compelled"
to file the Williams lawsuit "after receiving repeated reports of
unlawful behavior by Butte County law enforcement, as well as by other
police agencies throughout the state."
County Sheriff/Coroner Perry Reniff and his department had attempted to
impose a de facto ban on medical Marijuana patient collectives,
according to the ASA, which decided to pursue the case to show that
collectives and cooperatives are protected under state law.
ruling by the California courts sends yet another strong message to
state law enforcement that they must abide by the medical Marijuana
laws of the state and not the competing federal laws," said Joe Elford,
ASA chief counsel and the attorney who litigated the case on behalf of
Williams. Elford said that the propriety of Deputy Hancock's conduct
is measured by California, not federal, law.
court went further, stating that deny medical Marijuana patients
protection from warrantless intrusions and seizures by law enforcement
"would surely shock the sensibilities of the voters who approved
[Proposition 215]." The ASA found it especially noteworthy that the
court asserted the Compassionate Use Act of 1996 is not simply an
affirmative defense to criminal sanctions, but "...we see an
opportunity for an individual to request the same constitutional
guarantee of due process available to all individuals, no matter what
their status, under the state Constitution. The fact that this case
involves medical Marijuana and a qualified medical Marijuana patient
does not change these fundamental constitutional rights or an
individual's right to assert them."
decision upholds Butte County Superior Court Judge Barbara Roberts'
September 2007 ruling, in which she stated that seriously ill patients
collectively cultivating "should not be required to risk criminal
penalties and the stress and expense of a criminal trial in order to
assert their rights. Judge Roberts' ruling also rejected Butte County's
policy of requiring all members to physically participate in the
cultivation, thereby allowing collective members to "contribute
"In addition to protecting
patients' rights to collectively cultivate, the Court has reaffirmed
that medical Marijuana patients enjoy the same constitutional rights as
everyone else," said the ASA's Elford, "including the ability to file
civil rights actions when those rights are violated."
Butte County Sheriff's Department was already known for its zealous
anti-Marijuana enforcement. The first medical Marijuana supplier in the
state to be prosecuted in federal court after the passage of Prop 215
was originally arrested by Butte County officers. Chico resident Bryan
Epis received a 10-year sentence in federal court in 2002 for medical
Marijuana cultivation after Butte County officers raided his home in
1997 and seized 458 plants.
today's court decision could have repercussions statewide in other
(predominantly rural) counties with pot-phobic local law enforcement.