Individual Qualified Patients and Primary Caregivers

The law regarding medical marijuana is constantly evolving. To get the latest law relating to medical marijuana in California, please contact our office.

Excepts from California Attorney General's Guidelines for Medical Marijuana published August 2008.

A. State Law Compliance Guidelines.
1. Physician Recommendation: Patients must have a written or verbal recommendation for medical marijuana from a licensed physician. (§ 11362.5(d).)

2. State of California Medical Marijuana Identification Card:
Under the MMP, qualified patients and their primary caregivers may voluntarily apply for a card issued by DPH identifying them as a person who is authorized to use, possess, or transport marijuana grown for medical purposes. To help law enforcement officers verify the cardholder's identity, each card bears a unique identification number, and a verification database is available online ( In addition, the cards contain the name of the county health department that approved the application, a 24-hour verification telephone number, and an expiration date. (§§ 11362.71(a); 11362.735(a)(3)-(4); 11362.745.)

3. Proof of Qualified Patient Status:
Although verbal recommendations are technically permitted under Proposition 215, patients should obtain and carry written proof of their physician recommendations to help them avoid arrest. A state identification card is the best form of proof, because it is easily verifiable and provides immunity from arrest if certain conditions are met (see section III.B.4, below). The next best forms of proof are a city- or county-issued patient identification card, or a written recommendation from a physician.

4. Possession Guidelines:

  • a) MMP: Qualified patients and primary caregivers who possess a state issued identification card may possess 8 oz. of dried marijuana, and may maintain no more than 6 mature or 12 immature plants per qualified patient. (§ 11362.77(a).) But, if "a qualified patient or primary caregiver has a doctor's recommendation that this quantity does not meet the qualified patient's medical needs, the qualified patient or primary caregiver may possess an amount of marijuana consistent with the patient's needs." (§ 11362.77(b).) Only the dried mature processed flowers or buds of the female cannabis plant should be considered when determining allowable quantities of medical marijuana for purposes of the MMP. (§ 11362.77(d).)
  • b) Local Possession Guidelines: Counties and cities may adopt regulations that allow qualified patients or primary caregivers to possess medical marijuana in amounts that exceed the MMP's possession guidelines. (§ 11362.77(c).)
  • c) Proposition 215: Qualified patients claiming protection under Proposition 215 may possess an amount of marijuana that is "reasonably related to [their] current medical needs." (People v. Trippet (1997) 56 Cal.App.4th 1532, 1549.)

B. Enforcement Guidelines.

  • 1. Location of Use: Medical marijuana may not be smoked (a) where smoking is prohibited by law, (b) at or within 1000 feet of a school, recreation center, or youth center (unless the medical use occurs within a residence), (c) on a school bus, or (d) in a moving motor vehicle or boat. (§ 11362.79.)
  • 2. Use of Medical Marijuana in the Workplace or at Correctional Facilities: The medical use of marijuana need not be accommodated in the workplace, during work hours, or at any jail, correctional facility, or other penal institution. (§ 11362.785(a); Ross v. RagingWire Telecomms., Inc. (2008) 42 Cal.4th 920, 933 [under the Fair Employment and Housing Act, an employer may terminate an employee who tests positive for marijuana use].)
  • 3. Criminal Defendants, Probationers, and Parolees: Criminal defendants and probationers may request court approval to use medical marijuana while they are released on bail or probation. The court's decision and reasoning must be stated on the record and in the minutes of the court. Likewise, parolees who are eligible to use medical marijuana may request that they be allowed to continue such use during the period of parole. The written conditions of parole must reflect whether the request was granted or denied. (§ 11362.795.)

4. State of California Medical Marijuana Identification Cardholders:
When a person invokes the protections of Proposition 215 or the MMP and he or she possesses a state medical marijuana identification card, officers should:

  • a) Review the identification card and verify its validity either by calling the telephone number printed on the card, or by accessing DPH's card verification website; and
  • b) If the card is valid and not being used fraudulently, there are no other indicia of illegal activity (weapons, illicit drugs, or excessive amounts of cash), and the person is within the state or local possession guidelines, the individual should be released and the marijuana should not be seized. Under the MMP, "no person or designated primary caregiver in possession of a valid state medical marijuana identification card shall be subject to arrest for possession, transportation, delivery, or cultivation of medical marijuana." (§ 11362.71(e).) Further, a "state or local law enforcement agency or officer shall not refuse to accept an identification card issued by the department unless the state or local law enforcement agency or officer has reasonable cause to believe that the information contained in the card is false or fraudulent, or the card is being used fraudulently." (§ 11362.78.)

5. Non-Cardholders: When a person claims protection under Proposition 215 or the MMP and only has a locally-issued (i.e., non-state) patient identification card, or a written (or verbal) recommendation from a licensed physician, officers should use their sound professional judgment to assess the validity of the person's medical-use claim:

  • a) Officers need not abandon their search or investigation. The standard search and seizure rules apply to the enforcement of marijuana-related violations. Reasonable suspicion is required for detention, while probable cause is required for search, seizure, and arrest.
  • b) Officers should review any written documentation for validity. It may contain the physician's name, telephone number, address, and license number.
  • c) If the officer reasonably believes that the medical-use claim is valid based upon the totality of the circumstances (including the quantity of marijuana, packaging for sale, the presence of weapons, illicit drugs, or large amounts of cash), and the person is within the state or local possession guidelines or has an amount consistent with their current medical needs, the person should be released and the marijuana should not be seized.
  • d) Alternatively, if the officer has probable cause to doubt the validity of a person's medical marijuana claim based upon the facts and circumstances, the person may be arrested and the marijuana may be seized. It will then be up to the person to establish his or her medical marijuana defense in court.
  • e) Officers are not obligated to accept a person's claim of having a verbal physician's recommendation that cannot be readily verified with the physician at the time of detention.

6. Exceeding Possession Guidelines: If a person has what appears to be valid medical marijuana documentation, but exceeds the applicable possession guidelines identified above, all marijuana may be seized.

7. Return of Seized Medical Marijuana: If a person whose marijuana is seized by law enforcement successfully establishes a medical marijuana defense in court, or the case is not prosecuted, he or she may file a motion for return of the marijuana. If a court grants the motion and orders the return of marijuana seized incident to an arrest, the individual or entity subject to the order must return the property. State law enforcement officers who handle controlled substances in the course of their official duties are immune from liability under the CSA. (21 U.S.C. § 885(d).) Once the marijuana is returned, federal authorities are free to exercise jurisdiction over it. (21 U.S.C. §§ 812(c)(10), 844(a); City of Garden Grove v. Superior Court (Kha) (2007) 157 Cal.App.4th 355, 369, 386, 391.)