Key Medical Marijuana Decisions – Chavez v. Superior Court

Also see: Key Medical Marijuana Decisions by California Courts

Chavez v. Superior Court

Citation 123 Cal. App. 4th 104, 20 Cal. Rptr. 3d 21 (2004)
PDF of Full Opinion https://www.canorml.org/legal/chavez.pdf
Fact Summary A jury had convicted Patient of selling and transporting marijuana. While on bail pending appeal of the conviction, Patient was arrested and cultivation of marijuana and possession of marijuana for sale, after a search of Patient’s home had uncovered 46 live marijuana plants, 10 pounds of marijuana drying in a shed, and approximately 4.5 pounds of cultivated marijuana. After the Court of Appeal affirmed the first conviction, the second case was dismissed. Patient then filed a motion for return of property, including five pounds of marijuana, and provided the court with a physician’s approval to use marijuana to treat a degenerative spinal disease. The trial court denied Patient’s motion for return of property after finding ‘the amount of marijuana that was possessed exceeds the amount for personal medical use.
Summary Rule of Law The Compassionate Use Act (“CUA”) does not require a court to order the return of a reasonable amount of confiscated marijuana where the amount originally possessed by a patient exceeded a reasonable amount. Under Health & Safety Code section 11473.5 all seizures of controlled substances shall be destroyed by order of the court, unless the court finds that the controlled substances were lawfully possessed by the defendant. When a qualified patient possesses and cultivates marijuana in excess of his medical needs his possession and cultivation of marijuana cannot be deemed lawful and section 11473.5 requires its destruction.
Facts & Procedure A jury had convicted Patient “of two counts of selling and one count of transporting marijuana . . . .” 123 Cal. App. 4th at 107. While on bail pending appeal of the conviction, Patient was arrested and cultivation of marijuana and possession of marijuana for sale, after a “search of [Patient’s] home had uncovered 46 live marijuana plants, 10 pounds of marijuana drying in a shed, and approximately 4.5 pounds of cultivated marijuana.” Id. After the Court of Appeal affirmed the first conviction and the defendant “began serving his prison sentence”, “the People moved to dismiss the second case ‘in the interest of justice and judicial economy . . . .’” Id. “[A]fter the second case was dismissed, [Patient] filed a motion for return of property, including five pounds of marijuana.” Id. (footnote omitted). “In support of his contention he is entitled to possess marijuana pursuant to [the CUA], [Patient] provided the court with a letter and a physician’s statement . . . approving marijuana to relieve his pain” from a degenerative spinal disease. Id. at 107−08. The trial court denied Patient’s motion for return of property after finding “‘the amount of marijuana that was possessed exceeds the amount for personal medical use.’” Id. at 108.
Issue 1. Does the CUA require a court to order the return of a reasonable amount of confiscated marijuana where the amount originally possessed by a patient exceeded a reasonable amount?
Holding 1. The CUA does not require a court to order the return of a reasonable amount of confiscated marijuana where the amount originally possessed by a patient exceeded a reasonable amount. See 123 Cal. App. 4th at 108. Although the CUA “makes clear it was the intent of California voters ‘[t]o ensure that seriously ill Californians have the right to obtain and use marijuana for medical purposes . . . , noticeably absent from the statute is a provision which requires, or authorizes, the court to return confiscated marijuana.” Id. at 111 (footnote omitted) (citing the CUA). “Because the [CUA] makes no provision for return of marijuana, [a court is] compelled to apply . . . [Health & Safety Code] section 11473.5 . . . .” Id. “[U]nder section 11473.5 . . . ‘[a]ll seizures of controlled substances . . . which are in possession of any city, county, or state official . . . as the result of a case in which no trial was had or which has been disposed of by way of dismissal . . . , shall be destroyed by order of the court, unless the court finds that the controlled substances . . . were lawfully possessed by the defendant.’” Id. at 109. Even though Patient here was a qualified patient pursuant to the CUA, because “he possessed and cultivated marijuana in excess of the statute” (i.e., “in excess of his medical needs”) “his possession and cultivation of marijuana cannot be deemed lawful and section 11473.5 requires its destruction.” See id. at 110−11.
Discussion Subsequent decisions have held qualified patients are entitled to the return of confiscated marijuana. See Cnty. of Butte v. Superior Court, 175 Cal. App. 4th 729, 96 Cal. Rptr. 3d 421 (2009); City of Garden Grove v. Superior Court, 157 Cal. App. 4th 355, 68 Cal. Rptr. 3d 656 (2007). However, these decisions have distinguished, rather than overturned Chavez. To illustrate, see County of Butte:

“[Garden Grove] distinguished [Chavez] in which a defendant requested return of a ‘reasonable amount’ of marijuana for medicinal purposes after charges were dismissed in the furtherance of justice because he was already serving time on another case. In [Chavez], the defendant was not a qualified user under the Act and not in lawful possession of the marijuana under section 11473.5. Therefore, the marijuana had to be destroyed.”

175 Cal. App. 4th at 736 (citing City of Garden Grove, 157 Cal. App. 4th at 387–388 (citing Chavez)).

Therefore, if Chavez has any continuing legally vitality, is that the decision makes return of a qualified patient’s marijuana an “all or nothing proposition”. If all of a patient’s confiscated marijuana was reasonably related to their current medical needs, all of the confiscated marijuana is returnable. However, if only some of a patient’s confiscated marijuana was reasonably related to their current medical needs, none of the confiscated marijuana is returnable. However, this proposition seems potentially vulnerable on the constitutional grounds cited in the County of Butte and City of Garden Grove decisions.

Quotable Excerpts A person is prohibited from planting, cultivating, harvesting, drying, or possessing marijuana “except as otherwise provided by law….” (§§ 11357, 11358.) In 1996, “except as otherwise provided by law …” was given new meaning when California voters passed Proposition 215, the Compassionate Use Act.

Chavez v. Superior Court, 123 Cal. App. 4th 104, 109, 20 Cal. Rptr. 3d 21, 24 (2004).

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