Key Medical Marijuana Decisions – People v. Trippet

Also see: Key Medical Marijuana Decisions by California Courts

People v. Trippet

Citation 56 Cal. App. 4th 1532, 66 Cal. Rptr. 2d 559 (1997)
PDF of Full Opinion https://www.canorml.org/legal/trippet.pdf
Fact Summary Following the defendant’s conviction for possession of marijuana and transportation of marijuana, the voters enacted the Compassionate Use Act (“CUA”). On appeal, the defendant argued that the CUA provides a defense to the prosecution.
Summary Rule of Law The CUA provides a defense to a prosecution for possession of marijuana and transportation of marijuana, so long as the amount possessed and the amount transported are reasonably related to the patient’s current medical needs. The “patient’s current medical needs” is a question of fact to be determined by the trier of fact.
Facts & Procedure The defendant was found driving with an estimated two pounds of marijuana in her vehicle. 6 Cal. App. 4th at 1536. In 1995, the defendant was tried and convicted of possession of marijuana and transportation of marijuana. Id. at 1537. Following the defendant’s convictions, the voters enacted the Compassionate Use Act (“CUA”). Id. During the course of appellate arguments, the defendant argued that the CUA provides a defense to the prosecution. Id.
Issue(s) 1. Does the CUA provide a defense to prosecution for possession of marijuana?

2. Does the CUA provide a defense to prosecution for transportation of marijuana?

Holding(s) 1. The CUA provides a defense to prosecution for possession of marijuana. 56 Cal. App. 4th at 1548−47. Upon the recommendation or approval of a physician, a patient may possess an amount of marijuana reasonably related to the patient’s current medical needs. Id. at 1549. The “patient’s current medical needs” is a question of fact to be determined by the trier of fact. Id.

2. The CUA provides a defense to prosecution for transportation of marijuana even though the CUA does not mention transportation because “practical realities dictate that there be some leeway in applying section 11360 in cases where a [CUA] defense is asserted to companion charges.” 56 Cal. App. 4th at 1550. “The test should be whether the quantity transported and the method, timing and distance of the transportation are reasonably related to the patient’s current medical needs.” Id. at 1550−51.

Discussion Trippet was the first appellate-level decision reviewing the practical impact of the CUA. The case has been extremely influential in subsequent medical marijuana court decisions and is still citable as good law as its core holding and reasoning were largely applied by the Supreme Court of California in People v. Mower, 28 Cal. 4th 457, 49 P.3d 1067 (2002).

On one hand, the case can be considered a setback for medical marijuana in California. To illustrate, the defendant argued:

“[T]hat there are no quantity or potency limits [in the proposition] and virtually no restrictions as long as the purposes are medical . . . , that the proposition changed the medical use of marijuana from a crime to a right, and that patients get the benefit of any doubt as to law or fact; and their right to obtain and use marijuana gets Compassionate protection, and that its transportation by any means and in any quantity desired is now also completely protected.”

56 Cal. App. 4th at 1546 n.8 (internal quotations marks omitted).

However, the court treated the defendant’s assertion “as a sort of ‘Open Sesame’” that “would be tantamount to suggesting that the proposition’s drafters and proponents were cynically trying to ‘put one over’ on the voters”. Id. at 1546. The court selectively parsed the ballot pamphlet statements to reach this conclusion. See Id. at 1545–46 & n.7. Rather than determining the CUA provides immunity or complete defense for medical marijuana patients, Trippet determined that the CUA only provides “partial defense”. Id. at 1544. This limitation resonated in almost all subsequent court decisions.

On the other hand, the “patient’s current medical needs” standard initiated in Trippet is a useful doctrine for defending limitations on medical marijuana use. For example, when prosecutors used the provisions of the Medical Marijuana Program Act (“MMPA”) that include specific quantities to burden a medical marijuana defense, the “patient’s current medical needs” standard set forth in Trippet was cited by the Supreme Court of California in People v. Kelly, 47 Cal. 4th 1008, 222 P.3d 186 (2010), to rule that such a use of the MMPA would unconstitutionally amend the CUA.

Additionally, Trippet’s “patient’s current medical needs” standard opened the door for the use of the CUA as a defense for the charge of transportation of marijuana even though the charge is not explicitly mentioned in the text of the CUA. With disagreement of the approach from other decisions, e.g. People v. Young,, 92 Cal. App. 4th 229, 111 Cal. Rptr. 2d 726 (2001), Trippet’s understanding on transportation of marijuana was validated by the Supreme Court of California in People v. Wright, 40 Cal. 4th 81, 146 P.3d 531 (2006).

For a more in-depth discussion on the transportation of marijuana issue, see Jared Willis, Comment, The Hazy Cloud Engulfing Cultivation, Possession, and Transportation of Aggregate Amounts of Collectively Cultivated Medical Marijuana Pursuant to California Health and Safety Code Section 11362.775, 40 W. St. U. L. Rev. 135, 137 (2013).

Quotable Excerpt(s) Both by its clear terms and by the language of its proponents’ arguments in the ballot pamphlet, it was plainly presented to California’s voters as an act of compassion to those in severe pain.

People v. Trippet, 56 Cal. App. 4th 1532, 1545, 66 Cal. Rptr. 2d 559, 567 (1997).

But, of course, the statute uses the conjunctive; the defense it provides obtains if there is either a “recommendation or approval of a physician.” We think it clear that these two terms mean something slightly different, and that “approval” connotes a less formal act than a “recommendation.”

People v. Trippet, 56 Cal. App. 4th 1532, 1548, 66 Cal. Rptr. 2d 559, 569 (1997).

The rule should be that the quantity possessed by the patient or the primary caregiver, and the form and manner in which it is possessed, should be reasonably related to the patient’s current medical needs. What precisely are the “patient’s current medical needs” must, of course, remain a factual question to be determined by the trier of fact.

People v. Trippet, 56 Cal. App. 4th 1532, 1549, 66 Cal. Rptr. 2d 559, 570 (1997).

One (but not necessarily the only) type of evidence relevant to such a determination would be the recommending or approving physician’s opinion regarding the frequency and amount of the dosage the patient needs.

People v. Trippet,56 Cal. App. 4th 1532, 1549, 66 Cal. Rptr. 2d 559, 570 (1997).

However, and as even the Attorney General concedes, practical realities dictate that there be some leeway in applying section 11360 in cases where a Proposition 215 defense is asserted to companion charges. The results might otherwise be absurd. For example, the voters could not have intended that a dying cancer patient’s “primary caregiver” could be subject to criminal sanctions for carrying otherwise legally-cultivated and possessed marijuana down a hallway to the patient’s room.

People v. Trippet 56 Cal. App. 4th 1532, 1550, 66 Cal. Rptr. 2d 559, 571 (1997).

The test should be whether the quantity transported and the method, timing and distance of the transportation are reasonably related to the patient’s current medical needs. If so, we conclude there should and can be an implied defense to a section 11360 charge; otherwise, there is not.

People v. Trippet, 56 Cal. App. 4th 1532, 1550−51, 66 Cal. Rptr. 2d 559, 571 (1997).

Also see: Key Medical Marijuana Decisions by California Courts

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