Rejecting the argument by prosecutors that California’s marijuana law only protects small collectives where most or all members take part in cultivating marijuana for their own medical use, California’s Fourth District Court of Appeal recently ruled that a nonprofit dispensary can legally sell marijuana to members of its collective even if they played no part in growing it.
The ruling in People v. Jovan Christian Jackson reversed the 2010 conviction of Jovan Jackson, a San Diego marijuana dispensary operator who was charged with selling marijuana illegally. He was sentenced to six months in jail, but served less than half the term. Court documents indicate that Jackson said he and five other people “were actively engaged in cultivating marijuana and providing it to themselves and the approximately 1,600 other members of their medical marijuana collective. Jackson testified each member of the collective was required to show proof marijuana had been prescribed to the member by a medical professional for treatment of a medical condition. Jackson further testified the collective did not generate any profits for either himself or the other active participants.”
The trial court found that in light of the large number of members of the collective, Jackson could not establish that the collective was operated for the purpose of collectively cultivating marijuana within the meaning of the Medical Marijuana Program Act (MMPA) as opposed to simply distributing marijuana. As a result, Jackson was prevented from offering any defense under MMPA.
In reversing Jackson’s conviction and granting a new trial, the court of appeal stated:
Jackson’s burden [at trial] was not very great. Jackson was only required to produce evidence which would create a reasonable doubt as to whether the defense provided by the MMPA had been established. The defense the MMPA provides to patients who participate in collectively or cooperatively cultivating marijuana requires that a defendant show that members of the collective or cooperative: (1) are qualified patients who have been prescribed marijuana for medicinal purposes, (2) collectively associate to cultivate marijuana, and (3) are not engaged in a profit-making enterprise. As we interpret the MMPA, the collective or cooperative association required by the act need not include active participation by all members in the cultivation process but may be limited to financial support by way of marijuana purchases from the organization. Thus, contrary to the trial court’s ruling, the large membership of Jackson’s collective, very few of whom participated in the actual cultivation process, did not, as a matter of law, prevent Jackson from presenting an MMPA defense.
The San Francisco Chronicle reports that “state law ‘permits retail dispensaries’ and does not limit their size, as long as they operate as not-for-profit collectives or cooperatives, the San Diego court said in a 3-0 ruling. That means a dispensary can sell marijuana to hundreds or thousands of patients without violating state law. The ruling protects nonprofit dispensary operators from prosecution for drug dealing, and could also have implications for federal prosecutors’ attempt to shut down Harborside Health Center in Oakland, the nation’s largest supplier of medical marijuana.”