SB 420 Establishes New Prop 215 Guidelines, Voluntary Patient Identification Card System
Patients Allowed 6 Mature or 12 Immature Plants + 1/2 Pound of Processed Cannabis
Text of bill SB 420
A new bill establishing statewide guidelines for Prop. 215 enforcement takes effect on January 1, 2004. The bill, SB 420 by Sen. John Vasconcellos, was signed by outgoing Gov. Gray Davis just days after he lost the recall election.
SB 420, which reflects a compromise between patients’ advocates and law enforcement, includes controversial new state guidelines regarding how much marijuana patients may grow and possess without being subject to arrest. It also includes a voluntary patient identification card system and other provisions to protect patients and their caregivers from arrest.
The guidelines, which were hotly disputed by California NORML and other patients’ advocates, allow patients up to 6 mature or 12 immature plants and up to one-half pound of dried, processed marijuana. Patient advocates had pushed for more liberal guidelines, such as those adopted by Sonoma County, which allow up to 99 plants in a 100 square foot growing area plus 3 pounds of marijuana. The final guidelines were decided in a last-minute legislative deal by Attorney General Lockyer and Sen. Vasconcellos in order to get the bill passed.
Exceptions to Guidelines
In recognition of the fact that the guidelines are inadequate for many very ill patients, SB 420 allows patients to be exempted from them if they obtain a physician’s statement that they need more.
In deference to local autonomy, SB 420 also allows counties and cities to establish higher - but now lower - guidelines if they so choose. As a result, the new law will not overturn liberal guidelines that are now in effect in Sonoma and elsewhere. However, it should force more restrictive counties, such as San Bernardino and Fresno, which have heretofore had "zero tolerance" policies, to honor the new statewide minimum standard. Medical marijuana activists are lobbying other counties and cities that currently lack guidelines to override those in SB 420.
Limits Not Legally Binding on Guilt
Strictly speaking, the guidelines do not constitute hard and fast limits on how much patients may legally have. This is because Prop. 215 specifically allows patients whatever amount of marijuana they need for their own medical use, and Prop. 215 cannot be overridden by the legislature. Rather, the guidelines are supposed to protect patients from arrest, something that is nowhere guaranteed in Prop. 215 itself. Therefore, even though patients who exceed the limits are subject to arrest, they should still be able to defend themselves in court under Prop. 215.
Nonetheless, defense attorneys are fearful that some courts will misinterpret the new law as an absolute limit and wrongfully convict patients for exceeding it They fully expect that further litigation will be needed to settle the matter in the higher courts.
SB 420 authorizes the Attorney General to recommend modifications to the guidelines pursuant to public consultation and comment no later than Dec. 1, 2005. California NORML and other patients’ support groups intend to call on the Attorney General. to recommend new guidelines.
State to Establish Voluntary ID Card System
Identification cards under the new state program will be issued by county health departments. It will be at least a year before the system is up and running, since the state Department of Health Services must first work out the details. There will be registration fees to cover the costs of the program, with a 50% discount for Medi-Cal patients. Registrations will be valid for one year. There will be a 24-hour telephone hotline by which law enforcement can verify the validity of the cards.
The system is designed with safeguards to protect patient privacy like the current San Francisco ID card system. Police will not be able to identify whether persons are medical marijuana patients by their name or address, but only by a unique identification number appearing on their card. Although some patient advocates have expressed qualms about the privacy of the new identification system, California NORML is recommending that patients register to protect themselves from arrest. Similar ID card programs have been in effect in other states for several years, with no reports of abuse.
Persons designated as "primary caregivers" will also be eligible for ID cards. Each patient may designate a single caregiver. Caregivers may receive reasonable compensation for their services. However, cultivation or distribution "for profit" are not authorized.
In a quirky provision, SB 420 forbids caregivers from having more than one patient unless all of them reside in the same "city or county" as the caregiver. This means that no one may be a caregiver for both a spouse and a parent if they happen to reside in different counties. California NORML attorneys believe that this is an unconstitutional restriction on Prop. 215 and intend to challenge it in court.
Other Provisions of SB 420 
In other provisions, SB 420:
Recognizes the right of patients and caregivers to associate to collectively or cooperatively to cultivate medical marijuana .
Disallows marijuana smoking in no smoking zones, within 1000 feet of a school or youth center except in private residences, on schoolbuses, in a motor vehicle that is being operated, or while operating a boat..
Protects patients and caregivers from arrest for transportation and other miscellaneous charges not covered in 215.
Allows probationers, parolees, and prisoners to apply for permission to use medical marijuana; however, such permission may be refused at the discretion of the authorities.
Makes it a crime to fraudulently provide misinformation to obtain a card, to steal or misuse the card of another, to counterfeit a card, or to breach the confidentiality of patient records in the card program.
Although medical marijuana advocates are upset at the new guidelines, most believe that SB 420 is on balance a step forward. "This is one more step towards legitimizing medical marijuana," says California NORML coordinator Dale Gieringer.
California NORML intends to monitor the new law carefully and support legal action defending patients’ rights against misuse of SB 420. Patients with legal problems are encouraged to report them to the California NORML hotline (415) 563-5858.