Prop 215: California medical marijuana initiative

Who says you can’t change the world?

Chris Conrad & his wife Mikki Norris at their California home in 1996
Community Action Coordinators for the  California medical marijuana initiative. It was the first
statewide medical marijuana initiative to pass in the USA

Cannabis (marijuana) was listed in medical texts to treat over 100 different health conditions, prior to its ban in 1937 over the objections of the AMA. Medical use is still allowed under the UN Single Convention Treaty on Narcotic Drugs and the laws of more than 20 states.

The federal US government holds a patent on medical use of cannabis, but the bureaucrats of the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) still forbids its use. Meanwhile, the US government gives cannabis to seven patients in the Compassionate IND (Investigational New Drug) program. Eight states have legalized medical marijuana and allow patients to obtain, use and cultivate the herb. In May of 2001, the US Supreme Court ruled that state and federal laws do not need to conform with each other, leaving patients in legal limbo. Prop 215 and all other state medical marijuana laws remain in effect.

Other States have followed suit. Since its passage, a majority of other states have legalized medical marijuana through initiatives or legislative bills. These all require a doctor’s recommendation and many include the right for patients to cultivate marijuana for their own use.

California, 1996, 56% yes vote on Prop 215 to add 11362.5 to the Health and Safety Code, legalizing medical marijuana for seriously ill patients. Arizona passed Prop 200 by an even higher 65% majority. That law moved all drugs to a situation that would allow doctors to recommend them. The state legislature repealed the popular election vote, and voters promptly put it back onto the ballot as a referendum for 1998. It won there again in 1998, and voters in Alaska, Washington, Oregon and Nevada also legalized medical use of marijuana through the initiative process. Over the following 20 years, states as diverse as Hawai’i, Texas and New Jersey have passed their own medical marijuana reform, although the extent of that reform has varied.

California Proposition 215

Passed by 56% of California voters
in November 1996

(More California votes than President Clinton or any other elected official)

California Health and Safety Code Section 11362.5


The text of the Prop 215 initiative follows:

Section 1. Section 11362.5 is added to the California Health and Safety Code, to read:

11362.5. (a) This section shall be known and may be cited as the Compassionate Use Act of 1996.(b) (1) The people of the State of California hereby find and declare that the purposes of the Compassionate Use Act of 1996 are as follows:

(A) To ensure that seriously ill Californians have the right to obtain and use marijuana for medical purposes where that medical use is deemed appropriate and has been recommended by a physician who has determined that the persons health would benefit from the use of marijuana in the treatment of cancer, anorexia, AIDS, chronic pain, spasticity, glaucoma, arthritis, migraine or any other illness for which marijuana provides relief.(B) To ensure that patients and their primary caregivers who obtain and use marijuana for medical purposes upon the recommendation of a physician are not subject to criminal prosecution or sanction.

(C) To encourage the federal and state governments to implement a plan for the safe and affordable distribution of marijuana to all patients in medical need of marijuana.

(2) Nothing in this act shall be construed to supersede legislation prohibiting persons from engaging in conduct that endangers others, nor to condone the diversion of marijuana for non-medical purposes.

(c) Notwithstanding any other provision of law, no physician in this state shall be punished, or denied any right or privilege, for having recommended marijuana to a patient for medical purposes.

(d) Section 11357, relating to the possession of marijuana, and Section 11358, relating to the cultivation of marijuana, shall not apply to a patient, or to a patient’s primary caregiver, who possesses or cultivates marijuana for the personal medical purposes of the patient upon the written or oral recommendation or approval of a physician.

(e) For the purposes of this section, Primary caregiver means the individual designated by the person exempted under this act who has consistently assumed responsibility for the housing, health or safety of that person.

Sec. 2. If any provision of this measure or the application thereof to any person or circumstance is held invalid, that invalidity shall not affect other provisions or applications of the measure which can be given effect without the invalid provision or application, and to this end the provisions of this measure are severable.

Local medical marijuana garden guidelines are not legally binding limits, they represent the threshold level for a patient with a bona fide recommendation to be presumed in compliance with California Health and Safety Code HS 11362.5 (Prop 215). Law enforcement officials rarely respect these rights. For an updated listing of local medical marijuana possession and garden guidelines and an examination of relevant scientific data, go to http://www.safeaccessnow.net/

Safe Access Now
Safe Access Now is a community based ad hoc coalition to have the Sonoma County guidelines adopted throughout the State of California.

We have advocated for a state safe harbor of 100 square feet of garden canopy per patient. That safe harbor was inserted into state law in 2015 by Assembly Bills 243 / 266. Unfortunately, the state at the same time authorized local governments to ban personal and collective marijuana gardens.

Safe Access Now: Medical Marijuana Guidelines