Key Medical Marijuana Decisions – People v. Jones

Also see: Key Medical Marijuana Decisions by California Courts

People v. Jones

Citation 112 Cal. App. 4th 341, 4 Cal. Rptr. 3d 916 (2003)
PDF of Full Opinion https://www.canorml.org/legal/jones.pdf
Fact Summary The defendant testified that when he asked his physician whether he should try marijuana for his migraine headaches, his physician said, “It might help, go ahead.” Despite this testimony, the trial court precluded the defendant from presenting a defense under the Compassionate Use Act (“CUA”) because there was nothing to indicate that the doctor approved the defendant’s marijuana use.
Summary Rule of Law Under the CUA, a physician gives his or her “approval” of a patient’s marijuana use if the physician expresses to the patient a favorable opinion of marijuana use for treatment of the patient’s illness.
Facts & Procedure “After law enforcement officers found a substantial number of marijuana plants growing in a shed on defendant’s property,” the defendant was charged with cultivation of marijuana and possession of marijuana for sale. 112 Cal. App. 4th at 345. The defendant testified that “when he asked his physician whether he should try marijuana for his migraine headaches, his physician said, ‘It might help, go ahead.’” Id. at 344. “Despite this testimony, the trial court precluded defendant from presenting a defense under the Compassionate Use Act (“CUA”) . . . because the court concluded there was ‘nothing to indicate that the doctor approved’ defendant’s marijuana use.” Id. The defendant was “found defendant guilty of cultivating marijuana but not guilty of possessing marijuana for sale.” Id. at 346.
Issue(s) Under the CUA, does a physician give “approval” of a patient’s marijuana use merely by expressing a favorable opinion of marijuana use for treatment of the patient’s illness?
Holding(s) “[A] physician gives his or her ‘approval’ of a patient’s marijuana use within the meaning of the [CUA] if the physician expresses to the patient a favorable opinion of marijuana use for treatment of the patient’s illness.” 112 Cal. App. 4th at 344. The text of the CUA indicates that the crime of “‘cultivation of marijuana, shall not apply to a patient . . . who . . . cultivates marijuana for the personal medical purposes of the patient upon the written or oral recommendation or approval of a physician.’” Id. at 347 (citing the CUA) (emphasis and alteration in original). “[T]he words ‘recommendation’ and ‘approval’ ‘mean something slightly different, and . . . ‘approval’ connotes a less formal act than a ‘recommendation.’” Id. (citing People v. Trippet 56 Cal. App. 4th 1532, 1548 (1997)). “To ‘recommend’ something is ‘to present [it] as worthy of acceptance or trial’”, while “[t]o ‘approve’ something is to ‘express a favorable opinion of’ it.” Id. (citing Merriam–Webster’s Collegiate Dict., at 57, 974 (10th ed. 2001)). “The word ‘approval,’ . . . suggests the patient has raised the issue of marijuana use, and the physician has expressed a favorable opinion of marijuana use as a treatment for the patient.” Id. “Thus, a physician could approve of a patient’s suggested use of marijuana without ever recommending its use.” Id. (emphasis in original).
Discussion In being the first appellate-level court decision to broadly construe medical marijuana patient rights, the Jones decision is noteworthy in how it interpreted the CUA. Unlike most of the other court decisions interpreting the CUA prior to Jones, the Jones majority-opinion makes no mention of the CUA’s ballot pamphlet arguments. Rather the Jones majority (1) takes the actual language of the statute; (2) consults a dictionary for the plain, commonsense meaning of the language; and then (3) seeing no ambiguity, applies that plain, commonsense meaning to the decision at hand.

On the other hand, the concurring and dissenting opinion in Jones sought a restrictive reading of “approval” as equivalent to “recommendation” through its reading of the CUA’s ballot pamphlet arguments:

“[T]hese ballot arguments by the proponents show that physician ‘approval’ was used interchangeably with ‘recommendation.’ One term was not considered less formal, clear, or deliberative than the other.”

112 Cal. App. 4th at 356 (Kolkey, J., concurring and dissenting).

Although the approach did not carry the day in Jones, the concurring and dissenting opinion’s approach is consistent with how the courts have interpreted the CUA. See People v. Mower, 28 Cal. 4th 457, 469, 49 P.3d 1067, 1074 (2002) (citing California Ballot Pamphlet: General Election November 5, 1996 at 61 (1996)):

“Neither can [the CUA] reasonably be read to grant immunity from arrest by implication. As the proponents of Proposition 215 declared in their rebuttal to the argument of the measure’s opponents: ‘Police officers can still arrest anyone for marijuana offenses.’”
For a critique of the courts’ approach to interpreting the CUA, see Damian A. Martin, Comment, California Medical Marijuana Law: The Voters and Legislature Have Made Their Decision; Now Let Them Interpret It!, J.L. Econ. & Pol’y (forthcoming 2014–2015).

Quotable Excerpt(s) We conclude a physician gives his or her “approval” of a patient’s marijuana use within the meaning of the Compassionate Use Act if the physician expresses to the patient a favorable opinion of marijuana use for treatment of the patient’s illness.

People v. Jones, 112 Cal. App. 4th 341, 344, 4 Cal. Rptr. 3d 916, 918 (2003).

We further conclude that when a Compassionate Use Act defense is the subject of a pretrial hearing under Evidence Code section 402, the defendant need only produce evidence sufficient to raise a reasonable doubt on the element of the defense in question.

People v. Jones, 112 Cal. App. 4th 341, 344, 4 Cal. Rptr. 3d 916, 918 (2003).

We begin with the language of the Compassionate Use Act.

People v. Jones, 112 Cal. App. 4th 341, 346, 4 Cal. Rptr. 3d 916, 919 (2003).

Thus, a physician could approve of a patient’s suggested use of marijuana without ever recommending its use.

People v. Jones, 112 Cal. App. 4th 341, 347, 4 Cal. Rptr. 3d 916, 920 (2003) (emphasis in original).

Also see: Key Medical Marijuana Decisions by California Courts

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