PEOPLE V. SPARK (2004)

People v. Spark, 121 Cal.App.4th 259 (Aug 2, 2004)

This California state court appellate decision stands for the proposition that the compassionate use of marijuana defense under the Compassionate Use Act of 1996 is not limited to those medical marijuana patients deemed by a jury to be seriously ill. California Health & Safety Code §11362.5, which provides for this defense to illegal marijuana possession or cultivation charges, does not require a defendant to present evidence that he or she was “seriously ill.” The court held that the question of whether the medical use of marijuana is appropriate for a patient’s illness is to be made by a physician whose determination on this medical issue “is not to be second-guessed by jurors who might not deem the patient’s condition to be sufficiently ‘serious.’”

The case involved a defendant who was convicted of illegal cultivation in trial court after the court had instructed the jury, among other things, that in defending the unlawful cultivation charges he had to prove that he was “seriously ill and suffered from a medical condition where the use of marijuana as a treatment was medically appropriate.” The defendant was suffering from low back pain. The appellate court disagreed and ruled that the defense under the statute was available to patients in treatment of “any . . . illness for which marijuana provides relief.” The court noted that the only reference to “seriously ill” patients is in the prefatory, or purpose, statement of the Compassionate Use Act, and such reference did not require that serious illness be among the facts underlying the defense, given the plain text of the rest of the statute.

It appears that the case not only holds that the jury may not second-guess the physician’s determination as to the seriousness of the illness, but also may not question the quality or the validity of the evaluation by the doctor making the recommendation for medical use of marijuana. The court noted, and did not appear to be concerned, that in this case the recommending physician did not review any of the defendant’s medical records and the physician used only his hands and eyes when examining him. Further, the physician’s practice consisted only of himself, as he had no receptionist or nurse. He did not accept insurance and usually only accepted cash payments. The court ruled, or at least strongly implied, that such facts relating to the physician’s evaluation process and practice were not relevant to the issue of whether the defendant’s compassionate use defense was valid.

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