Key Medical Marijuana Decisions – People v. Rigo

Also see: Key Medical Marijuana Decisions by California Courts

People v. Rigo

Citation 69 Cal. App. 4th 409, 81 Cal. Rptr. 2d 624 (1999)
PDF of Full Opinion https://www.canorml.org/legal/rigo.pdf
Fact Summary At the time of arrest, the defendant used marijuana for medical purposes but did not have an authorization from a doctor. After his arrest, a doctor authorized the defendant’s use of medical marijuana. Nevertheless, the defendant was convicted for cultivation of marijuana.
Summary Rule of Law The defense for the use of medical marijuana under the CUA is not available if a physician’s recommendation or approval is obtained after arrest.
Facts & Procedure The defendant was arrested and eventually convicted with cultivation of marijuana. 69 Cal. App. 4th at 411−12. The defendant had suffered from gastritis for over 10 years and the parties stipulated that the defendants’ “use of marijuana was for medical purposes.” Id. at 411. However, at the time of arrest, the defendant did not have an authorization from a doctor. See Id. Three and a half months after his arrest, a doctor authorized the defendant “to use marijuana for medical reasons.” Id.
Issue(s) Is the defense for the use of medical marijuana under the Compassionate Use Act (“CUA”) available if a physician’s recommendation or approval is obtained after arrest?
Holding(s) The defense for the use of medical marijuana under the CUA is not available if a physician’s recommendation or approval is obtained after arrest. 69 Cal. App. 4th at 412. The footnote in People v. Trippet 56 Cal.App.4th 1532, 1548 n. 13 (1997) stating, “[a]lthough prior approval will ordinarily be the case, . . . we can readily conceive of exigent circumstances in which the physician’s approval might well be contemporaneous . . . or even subsequent to the possession although prior to actual usage” is dicta. 69 Cal. App. 4th at 412−13 (internal quotation marks omitted). Trippet did not involve a lack of approval of prior to arrest. Id. at 413. “[T]he record was unclear whether or not a physician had approved the [Trippet’s] marijuana use” and Trippet “had consulted with [a doctor prior to arrest] and had received a prescription for . . . a synthetic marijuana compound . . . .” Id.

The defendant’s reliance on the Webster’s Encyclopedic Unabridged Dictionary definition of “approve” is inappropriate in the context of the CUA. See id. at 414. To begin, the syntax of “upon the approval” in the CUA “does not denote whether the approval may be subsequent to medicinal usage.” Id.. Moreover, “[t]here is a specific word for an approval that comes after an event, ratification.” Id. (citing Black’s Law Dictionary 1262 (6th ed.1990)). If approval after an event was intended, the drafters of the CUA “could have been used [ratification] to denote that concept.” Id.

The defendant “admitted he was engaging in ‘self-medication’ when he took the marijuana.” Id. “To sanction the use of marijuana under the facts presented herein would encourage the use of marijuana for any idiosyncratic problem, whether medically valid or not, with an ensuing attempt to seek medical approval after an arrest intervened.” Id. at 415. “To allow self-medication . . . would frustrate the intent of the voters in enacting [the CUA].” Id. “There is no mention in the ballot arguments or the language of the statute about those who wish to self-medicate.” Id. “The purpose of the [CUA] was to provide a narrow medical exception under medical supervision for use of marijuana as an approved therapeutic agent.” Id.

Discussion As illustrated by footnote 13 cited above, the “reasonably related to a patient’s current medical needs” standard promulgated in People v. Trippet, 56 Cal. App. 4th 1532, 66 Cal. Rptr. 2d 559 (1997), contemplated circumstances where a physician’s post hoc approval was “reasonably related to a patient’s current medical needs.” The defendants in both Trippet and Rigo used marijuana for medical purposes and were arrested before the enactment of the CUA. This seems like the paradigmatic “exigent circumstance” where a physician’s post hoc approval was “reasonably related to a patient’s current medical needs.” Although “exigent circumstances” would certainly be rarer after the enactment of the CUA, there are other possible situations within reasonable contemplation. For example, where a patient was too impoverished to afford visits to a physician. Nevertheless, Rigo foreclosed the possibility of considering exigent circumstances in physician approval going forward. Although certainly unfair to Rigo-himself and a possible inconvenience to some patients going forward, the Rigo holding was not a major practical setback for the CUA in the vein of Trippet and People ex rel. Lungren v. Peron,59 Cal. App. 4th 1383, 70 Cal. Rptr. 2d 20 (1997).

Perhaps a more interesting aspect on the Rigo decision is observing the court’s approach to statutory interpretation of the CUA. It is paradigmatic that courts first look to the words of a statute “giving them a plain and commonsense meaning.” People v. Lewis, 43 Cal. 4th 415, 491, 181 P.3d 947, 1002 (2008). Nevertheless, the Rigo-court outright rejects the “plain and commonsense” definition of “approve”, then cites a legal dictionary with the expectation that the drafters would have used the legal term ratification to describe actions taken by medical professionals in a statute enacted by initiative. Just as a matter of common speech, the use of ratify or ratification to describe medical treatment seems highly unusual. Overall, the Rigo-court’s statutory interpretation approach to the CUA demonstrates the need for drafters of future marijuana-related initiatives to craft the actual statutory language with subsequent court interpretations in mindlll

Also see: Key Medical Marijuana Decisions by California Courts

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