Key Medical Marijuana Decisions – People v. Urziceanu

Also see: Key Medical Marijuana Decisions by California Courts

People v. Urziceanu

Citation 132 Cal. App. 4th 747, 33 Cal. Rptr. 3d 859 (2005)
PDF of Full Opinion https://www.canorml.org/legal/urziceanu.pdf
Fact Summary The defendant was a qualified patient under the Compassionate Use Act (“CUA”) and started a collective (“FloraCare”) to provide medicinal marijuana in a safe environment and at affordable prices. Marijuana plants were collectively grown for the members of FloraCare and some plants were owned by individual members. Also Sometimes marijuana was given away to members for free. However, there was a list for some marijuana products with suggested donation values. As a result, law enforcement served a search warrant on defendant’s home and discovered several different marijuana gardens that contained 159 plants which weighed a total of 410.65 pounds. Afterwards, the defendant was charged with cultivation of marijuana, possession of marijuana for purposes of sale, distribution of marijuana, and conspiracy to sell marijuana. The jury found defendant guilty of conspiracy to sell marijuana. Following the defendant’s conviction, the legislature enacted the Medical Marijuana Program Act (“MMPA”).
Summary Rule of Law The MMPA does provide a defense for collective cultivation and distribution of medical marijuana. The MMPA contains Health & Safety Code section 11362.775. Thus, the Legislature exempted those qualifying patients and primary caregivers who collectively or cooperatively cultivate marijuana for medical purposes from criminal sanctions for possession for sale, transportation or furnishing marijuana, maintaining a location for unlawfully selling, giving away, or using controlled substances, managing a location for the storage, distribution of any controlled substance for sale, and the laws declaring the use of property for these purposes a nuisance. Moreover, even without the MMPA, a good faith mistaken belief that the formation of a medical marijuana collective is legal due to the vagueness of the CUA does provide a defense to a conviction of conspiracy to sell marijuana.
Facts & Procedure The defendant was a qualified patient under the CUA. See 132 Cal. App. 4th at 763. The defendant started a collective (“FloraCare”) to “provide medicinal marijuana in a safe environment and at affordable prices.” Id. Medical marijuana patients that joined FloraCare were “required to fill out . . . forms as a condition of membership.” Id. at 764. “Further, each member was required to produce a valid California driver’s license or type of identification and his or her original physician’s recommendation.” Id. “FloraCare also followed up each application with a telephone call to the physician to verify the information unless the member had a card from another club.” Id. Marijuana plants were “collectively grown for the members of FloraCare” and “some . . . plants were owned by individual members of FloraCare.” Id. “[S]ometimes marijuana was given away [to members] for free.” Id. However, there was “a list for some marijuana products with suggested donation values.” Id. As a result, law enforcement “served a search warrant on defendant’s home” and discovered “several different marijuana gardens that contained 159 plants which weighed a total of 410.65 pounds.” Id. at 761. Afterwards, the defendant was charged with, inter alia, cultivation of marijuana, possession of marijuana for purposes of sale, distribution of marijuana, and conspiracy to sell marijuana. Id. at 762. Of the marijuana-related charges, “[t]he jury found defendant guilty of conspiracy to sell marijuana . . . .” Id. at 766. Following the defendant’s conviction, the legislature enacted the MMPA. Id. at 782.
Issues 1. Does the MMPA provide a defense for collective cultivation and distribution of medical marijuana?

2. Does a good faith mistaken belief that the formation of a medical marijuana collective is legal due to the vagueness of the CUA provide a defense to a conviction of conspiracy to sell marijuana?

Holdings 1. The MMPA does provide a defense for collective cultivation and distribution of medical marijuana. See 132 Cal. App. 4th at 782. “[T]he collective cultivation and distribution of marijuana was not provided for in the [CUA].” Id. However, one of the stated purposes of the CUA “was to encourage the state and federal government to implement a plan to provide for the safe and affordable distribution of medical marijuana to those patients who need it.” Id. at 782−83 (citing the CUA). “The [MMPA] is the Legislature’s initial response to that directive.” Id. at 783. Moreover, by enacting the MMPA, the Legislature specifically sought to: “‘Enhance the access of patients and caregivers to medical marijuana through collective, cooperative cultivation projects.’” Id. (citing 2003 Cal. Stat. ch. 875, § 1(b)(3)). On that note, the MMPA contains Health & Safety Code section 11362.775, which states:

“‘Qualified patients, persons with valid identification cards, and the designated primary caregivers of qualified patients and persons with identification cards, who associate within the State of California in order collectively or cooperatively to cultivate marijuana for medical purposes, shall not solely on the basis of that fact be subject to state criminal sanctions under Section 11357, 11358, 11359, 11360, 11366, 11366.5, or 11570.’”

Id. at 785 (quoting § 11362.775). “Thus, the Legislature also exempted those qualifying patients and primary caregivers who collectively or cooperatively cultivate marijuana for medical purposes from criminal sanctions for possession for sale, transportation or furnishing marijuana, maintaining a location for unlawfully selling, giving away, or using controlled substances, managing a location for the storage, distribution of any controlled substance for sale, and the laws declaring the use of property for these purposes a nuisance.” Id.

Overall, the MMPA “represents a dramatic change in the prohibitions on the use, distribution, and cultivation of marijuana for persons who are qualified patients or primary caregivers and fits the defense defendant attempted to present at trial.” Id. “Its specific itemization of the marijuana sales law indicates it contemplates the formation and operation of medicinal marijuana cooperatives that would receive reimbursement for marijuana and the services provided in conjunction with the provision of that marijuana.” Id. As a result, the MMPA “did abrogate the limits expressed in”—People v. Galambos, 104 Cal. App. 4th 1147 (2002); People v. Young, 92 Cal. App. 4th 229 (2001); People v. Rigo, 69 Cal. App. 4th 409 (1999); People ex rel. Lungren v. Peron, 59 Cal. App. 4th 1383 (1997); and People v. Trippet, 56 Cal. App. 4th 1532 (1997)—to the extent those cases hold that qualified patients and primary caregivers only have a defense for possession and cultivation of marijuana and do not have a defense for collective cultivation and distribution of medical marijuana. See id.

2. A good faith mistaken belief that the formation of a medical marijuana collective is legal due to the vagueness of the CUA does provide a defense to a conviction of conspiracy to sell marijuana. See 132 Cal. App. 4th at 782. “Here, defendant’s mistake that his formation and operation of FloraCare complied with the [CUA] was a mistake of law.” Id. at 776. Because the defendant had been convicted of conspiracy to sell marijuana, “defendant must have had the specific intent to violate the marijuana laws (i.e., he must have known what he was doing was illegal and he must have intended to violate the law) before he can properly be convicted of conspiracy to violate those laws.” Id. “Because conspiracy requires a specific intent, a good faith mistake of law would provide defendant with a defense.” Id. However, “[t]he defendant may not prove a good faith mistake of law by arguing he was unaware of the precise statute he was violating”—“the law recognizes honest purpose, not dishonest ignorance of the law, as a defense to a charge of committing a crime requiring specific intent.” Id. at 779 (citations and internal quotations omitted). The vagueness of the CUA, “is all a part of and falls within the framework of his claim he did not harbor the necessary specific intent to violate the law.” Id. at 781. As a result, “[h]is reading of the statute is merely another factor supportive of his claim he acted with a good faith belief that he legally could do what he did.” Id. “The jury’s own view of the vagueness or specificity of the Compassionate Use Act has nothing to do with this question.” Id. “They must view this act through defendant’s eyes and ascertain its effect on his state of mind.” Id. “On this point, defendant was entitled to present evidence that the law was vague.” Id.

Discussion Urziceanu is obviously a groundbreaking decision for medical marijuana patient rights. To put it plainly, the decision determines that the MMPA expands the protections offered by the CUA to collective cultivation and distribution of medical marijuana. In a portion of the decision not discussed above, Urziceanu reviews many of the pre-MMPA cases and determines that “[a] cooperative where two people grow, stockpile, and distribute marijuana to hundreds of qualified patients or their primary caregivers, while receiving reimbursement for these expenses, does not fall within the scope of the language of the [CUA] or the cases that construe it.” 132 Cal. App. 4th at 773. Urziceanu’s MMPA holding limits the impact of many of those cases, in particular People v. Galambos, 104 Cal. App. 4th 1147 (2002) and People ex rel. Lungren v. Peron, 59 Cal. App. 4th 1383 (1997). That noted, it would be too strong to say that Urziceanu holds that the MMPA “permits” or “legalizes” collective cultivation and distribution, as the Urziceanu holding is still cabined within People v. Mower, 28 Cal. 4th 457 (2002) and the holding that the CUA only provides a “limited defense”. On that note, in Urziceanu, Mower is not included in the list of cases that the MMPA “abrogate[d] the limits . . . which took a restrictive view of the activities allowed by the [CUA].” Id. at 785.

Nevertheless, as the first appellate-level decision to extensively consider the impact of the MMPA (pre-Urziceanu, People v. Frazier, 128 Cal. App. 4th 807 (2005), considered the MMPA is passing on a holding grounded in the CUA), Urziceanu set the tone for the legal battles to follow and is the first decision in the line of cases that finally confirmed “a member of a collective or cooperative may purchase medical marijuana from the collective or cooperative so long as the sale is not for profit.” People v. Baniani, 229 Cal. App. 4th 45, 61 (2014). After Urziceanu, prosecutors had to argue that the MMPA’s collective or cooperative defense applied only where all members participated in the cultivation or, as in Baniani, where members made a “monetary contribution prior to the planting of the marijuana the patient would eventually be given.” See, e.g., Chris Lindberg, Room For Abuse: A Critical Analysis of the Legal Justification for the Marijuana Storefront “Dispensary”, 40 Sw. L. Rev. 59, 117 (2010) (“Can you pay others to cultivate with you? Perhaps, so long as you are also engaging in the act of cultivation. It is not a duty that can be delegated, outside of the primary caregiver relationship, and still remain within the scope of the protected activity.” (citations omitted)).

Although not typically emphasized in case summaries of Urziceanu, the holding that vagueness of the CUA provides a defense to conspiracy to sell marijuana is also important because vagueness is still an issue with the collective and cooperative operations. To quote, directly from California Attorney General, Kamala Harris:

“There are significant unresolved legal questions regarding the meaning of [the MMPA]. . . . These divergent viewpoints highlight the statute’s ambiguity. Without a substantive change to existing law, these irreconcilable interpretations of the law, and the resulting uncertainty for law enforcement and seriously ill patients, will persist.”

Memorandum Re: Med. Marijuana Legis. from Kamala D. Harris, Att’y Gen, Office of the Att’y Gen. to Darrell Steinberg, President Pro-Tempore, State Capitol and John A. Perez, Speaker of the Assemb., State Capitol (Dec. 21, 2011). Therefore, Urziceanu still also provides medical marijuana criminal defendants a practical tool to use when prosecutors stack charges to include conspiracy.

Quotable Excerpts Defendant’s good faith mistake of law, while not a defense to the crime of selling marijuana, was a defense to the conspiracy to commit that crime.

People v. Urziceanu, 132 Cal. App. 4th 747, 775, 33 Cal. Rptr. 3d 859, 875 (2005).

Because conspiracy requires a specific intent, a good faith mistake of law would provide defendant with a defense.

People v. Urziceanu, 132 Cal. App. 4th 747, 776, 33 Cal. Rptr. 3d 859, 876 (2005).

If the jury believed that defendant had a good faith belief, based on the Compassionate Use Act, that his actions were legal, this would negate the specific intent to violate the law required for a conspiracy conviction.

People v. Urziceanu, 132 Cal. App. 4th 747, 779, 33 Cal. Rptr. 3d 859, 878 (2005).

He can testify he thought that what he was doing was legal in part because he read the Compassionate Use Act and he thought it allowed him to do what he did. And he can tell the jury why his reading of the law led him to that conclusion.

People v. Urziceanu, 132 Cal. App. 4th 747, 781, 33 Cal. Rptr. 3d 859, 880 (2005).

[W]hether defendant’s conduct actually fell within the confines of the Compassionate Use Act’s safe harbor does not answer the question of whether he held a good faith belief that his conduct was legal, such that he could not be convicted of conspiracy to sell marijuana.

People v. Urziceanu, 132 Cal. App. 4th 747, 782, 33 Cal. Rptr. 3d 859, 880 (2005).

As we have noted, the Compassionate Use Act stated that one of its purposes was to encourage the state and federal government to implement a plan to provide for the safe and affordable distribution of medical marijuana to those patients who need it. (§ 11362.5, subd. (b)(1)(C).) The Medical Marijuana Program Act is the Legislature’s initial response to that directive. (Stats.2003, ch. 875, § 1.)

People v. Urziceanu, 132 Cal. App. 4th 747, 782−83, 33 Cal. Rptr. 3d 859, 881 (2005).

Further, the statute provides an expanded definition of what constitutes a primary caregiver. (§ 11362.7, subd. (d).)

People v. Urziceanu, 132 Cal. App. 4th 747, 783, 33 Cal. Rptr. 3d 859, 881−82 (2005).

The Medical Marijuana Program Act further expressly expands the scope of the Compassionate Use Act beyond the qualified defense to cultivation and possession of marijuana.

People v. Urziceanu, 132 Cal. App. 4th 747, 784, 33 Cal. Rptr. 3d 859, 882 (2005).

Thus, [11362.765] extends the protections of the Compassionate Use Act to the additional crimes related to marijuana: possession for sale (§ 11359), transportation or furnishing marijuana (§ 11360), maintaining a location for unlawfully selling, giving away, or using controlled substances (§ 11366), managing a location for the storage or distribution of any controlled substance for sale (§ 11366.5), and the provisions declaring a building used for selling, storing, manufacturing, and distributing a controlled substance to be a nuisance (§ 11570).

People v. Urziceanu, 132 Cal. App. 4th 747, 784, 33 Cal. Rptr. 3d 859, 882 (2005).

[Section 11362.765] thus allows a primary caregiver to receive compensation for actual expenses and reasonable compensation for services rendered to an eligible qualified patient, i.e., conduct that would constitute sale under other circumstances.

People v. Urziceanu, 132 Cal. App. 4th 747, 784−85, 33 Cal. Rptr. 3d 859, 883 (2005).

Thus [with section 11362.775], the Legislature also exempted those qualifying patients and primary caregivers who collectively or cooperatively cultivate marijuana for medical purposes from criminal sanctions for possession for sale, transportation or furnishing marijuana, maintaining a location for unlawfully selling, giving away, or using controlled substances, managing a location for the storage, distribution of any controlled substance for sale, and the laws declaring the use of property for these purposes a nuisance.

People v. Urziceanu, 132 Cal. App. 4th 747, 785, 33 Cal. Rptr. 3d 859, 883 (2005).

This new law represents a dramatic change in the prohibitions on the use, distribution, and cultivation of marijuana for persons who are qualified patients or primary caregivers and fits the defense defendant attempted to present at trial. Its specific itemization of the marijuana sales law indicates it contemplates the formation and operation of medicinal marijuana cooperatives that would receive reimbursement for marijuana and the services provided in conjunction with the provision of that marijuana.

People v. Urziceanu, 132 Cal. App. 4th 747, 785, 33 Cal. Rptr. 3d 859, 883 (2005)

Contrary to the People’s argument, this law did abrogate the limits expressed in the cases we discussed in part IA which took a restrictive view of the activities allowed by the Compassionate Use Act.

People v. Urziceanu, 132 Cal. App. 4th 747, 785, 33 Cal. Rptr. 3d 859, 883 (2005) (footnote omitted) (citing People v. Galambos, 104 Cal. App. 4th 1147, 1165–1169, 128 Cal. Rptr. 2d 844 (2002); People v. Young, 92 Cal. App. 4th 229, 235–238, 111 Cal. Rptr. 2d 726 (2001); People v. Rigo, 69 Cal. App. 4th 409, 412–416, 81 Cal. Rptr. 2d 624 (1999); People ex rel. Lungren v. Peron, 59 Cal. App. 4th 1383, 1389–1400, 70 Cal. Rptr. 2d 20 (1997); People v. Trippet, 56 Cal. App. 4th 1532, 1543–1551, 66 Cal. Rptr. 2d 559 (1997)).

[T]he Medical Marijuana Program Act sets forth the new affirmative defense allowing collective cultivation of marijuana, expands the defense to penal sections not identified by the Compassionate Use Act, and contains no savings clause.

People v. Urziceanu, 132 Cal. App. 4th 747, 786, 33 Cal. Rptr. 3d 859, 884 (2005).

Here, at trial, defendant produced substantial evidence that suggests he would fall within the purview of section 11362.775. He presented the court with evidence that he was a qualified patient, that is, he had a qualifying medical condition and a recommendation or approval from a physician. His codefendant Rodger submitted that same evidence as to herself. Defendant further presented evidence of the policies and procedures FloraCare used in providing marijuana for the people who came to him, including the verification of their prescriptions and identities, the fact that these people paid membership fees and reimbursed the defendant for costs incurred in the cultivation through donations. Further, he presented evidence that members volunteered at the cooperative.

People v. Urziceanu, 132 Cal. App. 4th 747, 786, 33 Cal. Rptr. 3d 859, 884 (2005).

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