Court allows protections for patients transporting
By Julia Cheever, Bay City News Service
November 28, 2006
SAN FRANCISCO (BCN) - The California Supreme Court ruled
Monday that legal protections for patients who transport medical
marijuana apply retroactively to cases that were underway by 2003.
The ruling, issued in San Francisco, concerns a 2003 state law
that clarified California's medical marijuana law, which was passed
by state voters in 1996 as the Compassionate Use Act.
The Compassionate Use Act protects seriously ill patients from
being prosecuted in state court for using marijuana when they
have a doctor's approval.
The protections apply only to state court prosecutions and not
to criminal prosecutions in federal court. Federal drug laws do
not allow an exception for California's medical marijuana law.
The later law, passed by the California Legislature in 2003 and
entitled the Medical Marijuana Program, was intended to clarify
the Compassionate Use Act and address some additional issues.
Among other provisions, it extended similar legal protections
to medical marijuana patients who transport the drug. It also
established a program for issuing identification cards to qualified
The case before the state high court was an appeal by Shaun Wright,
a Huntington Beach man who was convicted in Orange County Superior
Court of transporting marijuana and possessing it for sale. Wright
was sentenced to a year in jail and released on probation after
He was arrested in 2001 after police received a tip that his
pickup truck at a car wash "reeked of marijuana." Police
found one pound and three ounces of marijuana along with a scale.
Wright said he needed the marijuana to alleviate chronic pain
from a bicycle accident and stomach problems from a parasite.
He argued in his appeal that the jury should have been instructed
that transporting marijuana for his personal medical use could
be a defense against a criminal charge of transporting marijuana.
The state high court agreed that the 2003 law applied to his
case because his appeal was pending at when the law was passed.
Justice Carlos Moreno wrote, "We agree that the Medical
Marijuana Program applies retroactively to cases pending at the
time of its enactment and, therefore, to the present case."
But the court said Wright's conviction didn't need to be automatically
overturned. It said the jury's finding that he possessed marijuana
with the intent to sell had by implication rejected his claim
that he was transporting the marijuana for his personal medical
The panel sent the case back to Orange County Superior Court
for further proceedings on Wright's claims that there were also
other errors in jury instructions.
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