Basics of Physicians California Medical Marijuana Recommendation

Q: I’m looking into the possibility of obtaining a recommendation from a doctor to use medical marijuana in California. How do I obtain one? What does a recommendation allow me to do? Does it have an expiration date?

A: The cornerstone of California’s medical marijuana laws came in the passage of the Compassionate Use Act of 1996, specifically California Health and Safety Code §§11362.5 – 11362.9. The purpose of the law is to ensure that “seriously ill Californians” have access to marijuana for medical purposes when recommended by a licensed physician. The core component of the law states that the laws criminalizing the possession and cultivation of marijuana (Health and Safety Codes §§11357 and 11358, respectively) “shall not apply” to patients or a patient’s caregiver upon “written or oral recommendation or approval of a physician”. While the law lists several conditions and illnesses that are expressly suitable for treatment by marijuana, it also includes a catch-all phrase which allows “any other illness for which marijuana provides relief” to be eligible for a recommendation.

The most common practice by far in California is for a prospective patient to visit a physician familiar with the use, treatment and effects of medical cannabis for such serious illness. The physician should perform a review of the patient’s relevant medical records, and any additional tests or diagnostics necessary for his or her opinion on the use of medical marijuana. If the physician approves the use of medical marijuana, he or she will issue a formal, written “recommendation”, which varies somewhat among physicians, but generally lists the patient’s information, the diagnosis, and the approval of the use of medical cannabis to treat the condition. The recommendation by itself permits the patient to use, possess and cultivate medical marijuana for personal use (or cultivating and possessing by a primary caregiver, for a patient), subject to any other applicable ordinances, statutes or guidelines.

Many recommendations contain an expiration date, and also do not list any particular “dosage” of medical cannabis to treat the illness in question (i.e. one gram per week). However, California law does not technically require the recommendation to be “renewed”, nor does it require the recommendation to list any particular amount of dosage on the document itself. As long as the patient still suffers from the condition which prompted the physician to recommend marijuana in the first place, a recommendation may still be valid. Further, while a doctor’s opinion about the quantity of use of marijuana by a patient may be offered at trial in the defense of criminal charges, the recommendation itself need not specify any particular “dose” to be valid. People v. Windus (2008) 165 Cal.App.4th 634.

Patients nearly always carry their recommendation or a copy on their person when using or carry medical marijuana for their own purposes. The California Attorney General set forth the procedures for law enforcement personnel to follow when confronting someone with a medical marijuana recommendation:

If the officer reasonably believes that the medical-use claim is valid based upon the totality of the circumstances (including the quantity of marijuana, packaging for sale, the presence of weapons, illicit drugs, or large amounts of cash, and the person in within the state or local possession guidelines or has an amount consistent with their current medical needs, the person should be released and the marijuana should not be seized.

One problem arises, of course, when the patient and law enforcement come into a debate about what is reasonable for the patient’s needs. Many recommendations do not list an amount of cannabis to be used, and police officers, while educated in the illegal use of marijuana, cannot issue a medical opinion upon whether the amount carried is reasonable for the patient’s medical condition. Patient seeking to avoid this awkward dispute with police might consider obtaining a Medical Marijuana Identification Card pursuant to the Medical Marijuana Plan (State Senate Bill 420).

Keep in mind: medical marijuana laws are unfortunately fraught with confusion, ambiguity and many areas subject to interpretation by the courts, or legislation by county and municipal agencies. Anyone seeking to begin using medical marijuana should always consult the relevant laws of the State of California, but also those local ordinances or guidelines which may apply. Contact a local legal professional who understands patients’ rights and limitations for advice on the use of medical marijuana.

Beck Law P.C. is located in Santa Rosa and offers an entire scope of Medical Marijuana services to clients in Santa Rosa, Petaluma, Cotati, Rohnert Park, Sebastopol, Healdsburg, Sonoma, Kenwood, Glen Ellen, Windsor, Bodega Bay, Ukiah, Willits, Clearlake, Lakeport, Kelseyville and throughout Sonoma, Mendocino and Lake County.

Beck Law P.C. can furnish the experience and knowledge to help guide you through the legal aspects of your current situation, needs or plans. Making an appointment to meet with us is an investment in exploring what options may or may not apply to your particular situation. Your visit to the Beck Law Offices is confidential, as is the information discussed. You can contact our office at 707-576-7175 or contact us online.


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