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Court allows protections for patients transporting medicinal marijuana

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 patients.

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 six months.

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 use.

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.

Copyright © 2006 by Bay City News, Inc. -- Republication, Rebroadcast or any other Reuse without the express written consent of Bay City News, Inc. is prohibited.




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