• Chey

Understanding the Background of Medical Marijuana in California

As marijuana becomes legal in more states throughout the US, California continues to be a major player and a leader in the cannabis community. The state made around 5.5 billion dollars from medical and legal sales in 2017- 2018 and the projections for the years to come only get larger than that. With that in mind, I think it’s time we look back at where this all started and what exactly the laws surrounding cannabis mean today.

In 1972, Prop 19, the California Marijuana Initiative, was introduced as a ballot measure that would legalize cannabis use, possession, growing, processing, or transporting for people 18 and over. In November of that year, it was on the statewide ballot, but unfortunately, was beaten by voters with 66.5% voting no. This was the very first attempt at legalizing marijuana in California but certainly was not the last. It wasn’t until years later that the state once again attempted to get new laws in place surrounding marijuana.

In 1996, over 700,000 signatures were collected to place Prop 215 on the ballot. Prop 215 or The Compassionate Use Act of 1996, aimed to legalize the use and sale of cannabis for medical purposes. People who were diagnosed with a serious illness such as cancer, AIDS, arthritis, chronic pain, and so on, would be able to ingest cannabis to help with their symptoms, but only if they have a recommendation from a physician. This measure passed with 56% of the vote, making history in the cannabis world. In 2003, this measure was revised to include the identification card system. This bill was called, please hold for a dramatic pause, Senate Bill 420.

Unfortunately, in 2005, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of a federal ban on marijuana, even in the states that had already made it legal. This new law basically made California’s Compassionate Use Act useless by removing that protection that had been placed there for medical purposes. The process that the industry had gone through to become more a more normalized product was now set back to square one. This was a tough hit that was not rectified until 2013 when Deputy Attorney General Jim Cole changed the standards for federal prosecution. With this, California was freed from these federal laws and was able to get back to where they were.


During that long stretch of time, specifically 2010, Prop 19 rose from the ashes and was new and improved. Essentially it would legalize marijuana in the same way that alcohol is legal, but that was not passed. Instead, Senate Bill 1449 which prevented marijuana-related cases from going to court, replaced it. There was still a fine of $100 but no jail time was required. While this was a step up, it still wasn’t the best possible situation. California continued under these laws up until 2016, when Prop 64, The Adult Use of Marijuana Act, was passed with 57% of the vote being yes. This legalized the ownership, right to grow, and the right to distribute cannabis to residents of California over the age of 21.

California was free once again. With this new law also came the introduction of cannabis retailers being able to apply for licenses to keep them safe under the law. Within just two years, the industry was flourishing and hasn’t stopped since. In California now, there are tons of different dispensaries and cannabis brands, and more coming every day. In 2018, two new laws were passed and went into effect the next year. The first was Assembly Bill 1793, which expedited the review process for people who were eligible to have their past cannabis convictions dismissed. This bill has a set timeline for the Department of Justice to reduce or dismiss convictions before 2020.

The second bill that was passed is the Assembly Bill 3067, which clarified the advertising requirements that were not firmly laid out in Prop 64. Basically, the previous proposition did not cover online protections for minors involving cannabis-related products. This new bill enforced stricter rules to prevent marketing tactics aimed at under-aged people.

Currently, it is legal to purchase cannabis for medical or recreational use if you are a resident of California over the age of 21. If you are 18 or older, you can get a medical card from a doctor to purchase weed. Cannabis can only be consumed in private spaces, and it is also not allowed to be used in the car for either the driver or passenger. There are some places that will allow you to use cannabis in their facilities but that depends on the place. There are a ton of dispensaries in California now, and even websites that you can order delivery from. The industry has been booming and will only continue to do so. California has started a trend that will hopefully continue to spread throughout the country.

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