How Much Medical Marijuana Can You Possess in California ?

California's Compassionate Use Act of 1996 ( 11362.5) (CUA), provides in pertinent part that "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." ( 11362.5, subd. (d).) Under the CUA, the only limit on how much marijuana a person may possess is that "it must be ' "reasonably related to the patient's current medical needs." ' " (People v. Kelly (2010) 47 Cal.4th 1008, 1027.) The defendant in People v. Chakos (2007) 158 Cal.App.4th 357 was found with a total of six ounces of marijuana in his possession, and convicted of possessing the marijuana for sale. (Chakos, supra, 158 Cal.App.4th at p. 359.) T he conviction was based on the testimony of the arresting officer, Deputy Sheriff Christopher Cormier, who testified both as a percipient witness and as an expert witness. (Id. at p. 360-361.) A search of the defendant's car and home revealed the marijuana, $781 in cash, a doctor's slip for lawful marijuana use, 99 empty baggies (of the sort used in the defendant's profession as a phlebotomist), a digital gram scale, and a closed-circuit camera system. (Ibid.) Cormier testified that the totality of the circumstances, including the fact that the marijuana in the car was not packaged for personal use, and the presence of packaging material, a scale, and a surveillance camera system, led him to conclude that the marijuana was possessed for sale. (Id. at pp. 361-362.) Cormier's qualifications as an expert were that he had both general training and narcotics training, including training in packaging, drug identification, and growing, selling, and packaging marijuana; that he had assisted in more than a hundred investigations for possession and sale of narcotics; he had spoken to people who sold and bought narcotics about the amounts they bought, sold and used; he could identify marijuana; and he had seized " 'indoor grows.' " (Chakos, supra, 158 Cal.App.4th at p. 361.) However, he had never arrested anyone with a medical marijuana recommendation. (Id. at p. 362.) On appeal, the defendant argued there was insufficient evidence to sustain the conviction because Cormier did not have expertise in the medical use of marijuana. (Id. at p. 363.) The Court of Appeal agreed, relying on Hunt. (Id. at pp. 363-369.) In People v. Hunt (1971) 4 Cal.3d 231, the California Supreme Court had ruled that the evidence that the defendant held methedrine for sale did not support the judgment: the officer who opined that the drugs were held for sale had extensive training, education, and experience relating to possession and trafficking in dangerous drugs, but there was no indication he had substantial experience with citizens who lawfully purchased the drug as medicine for illness. (Hunt, supra, 4 Cal.3d at pp. 234-235, 237-238.) The Chakos court concluded that Hunt controlled, noting that the norm was not for marijuana to be distributed through controlled channels, and that "expertise in distinguishing lawful patterns of possession from unlawful patterns of holding for sale" was "conspicuously missing" in the case before it. (Chakos, supra, 158 Cal.App.4th at p. 367.) Explaining that the record did not show that Cormier was "any more familiar than the average layperson or the members of this court with the patterns of lawful possession for medicinal use that would allow him to differentiate them from unlawful possession for sale," the court concluded he was unqualified to render an expert opinion, and under Hunt, the evidence was not sufficient to sustain the judgment. (Id. at pp. 368-369.)