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Calif. Court Gives More Protection to Medical Marijuana Users

Join Together News Summary, November 29, 2006

People found by police to be carrying even seemingly large amounts of marijuana can defend themselves in court by claiming that they are medical-marijuana users, the California Supreme Court has ruled.

The Los Angeles Times reported Nov. 28 that the high court ruled 6-1 that the state's medical-marijuana law shields patients from being prosecuted on drug-transportation charges if they can prove that the amount of marijuana being carried was consistent with their personal medical needs.

The ruling stemmed from a case where a man was found carrying more than a pound of marijuana in his truck, along with baggies and an electronic scale. The man, Shaun Eric Wright, was charged with transporting marijuana with intent to sell, but at trial he got a doctor to testify that he had recommended medical use of marijuana for Wright.

Wright's doctor said he needed a large amount of marijuana because he preferred to eat it rather than smoke it. The trial judge said that the amount of marijuana involved was too large to be covered by the medical-marijuana law. But the Supreme Court ruled that the judge should have instructed the jury about the medical-marijuana defense.

However, the high court did not overturn Wright's conviction, saying that the jury still could have convicted him of a misdemeanor if they believed he was guilty only of possession. Instead, jurors decided that Wright intended to sell the drugs.

The Supreme Court ruling "expands the defenses that can be used for medical marijuana," said Maureen J. Shanahan, Wright's attorney. The California Attorney General's office said the clarification by the court about the scope of the medical-marijuana law would be helpful.