SB 420 Establishes 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 bill establishing statewide guidelines for Prop. 215 enforcement took 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 not lower - guidelines if they so choose. Several localities have done so. It forces more restrictive counties, such as San Bernardino and Fresno, which have heretofore had "zero tolerance" policies, to honor the new statewide minimum standard.

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.

State Establishes Voluntary ID Card System

Identification cards under the state ID card program are issued by county health departments, with registration fees halved for Medi-Cal recipients. Registrations are be valid for one year. There is 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 cannot identify whether persons are medical marijuana patients by their name or address, but only by a unique identification number appearing on their card.

Persons designated as "primary caregivers" are 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.

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.
  • Does not authorize medical 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.