This month marks a landmark decision when it comes to cannabis rules in the first state ever to implement medical marijuana: California.
Less than a gram of concentrated cannabis (a.k.a. honey oil or dab) were all the prosecution needed to extend 22-year old Sean Patrick Mulcrevy’s probation for two more years in 2013. But that all changed on Wednesday, December 17, when a Sacramento appellate court ruled that concentrated cannabis is a legal form of medical marijuana.
When Mulcrevy was charged, he was on probation for unlawfully exhibiting a firearm back in 2011. According to Mulcrevy’s prosecution, cannabis possession was a violation of his probation because it was a failure to “obey all laws” — even though he had a doctor’s recommendation for medical marijuana. Mulcrevy suffers from acid reflux and migraines, both of which he found to be treatable with THC, the active ingredient responsible for most of the psychoactive effects of cannabis.
Concentrated cannabis means any cannabis product that has been procured through an extraction process. This means exposing a cannabis plant to solvents, which strip excess compounds and leave behind only the most potent parts of the plant. Concentrated cannabis can be incredibly strong — some forms are up to 80 percent THC, meaning a drop the size of a pen tip could produce a substantial euphoric or “high” effect.
The appeals court reversed Mulcrevy’s sentence, reports Dennis Romero of the LA Weekly. The three justice panel unanimously disagreed with the prosecution in Mulcrevy’s case. In their conclusion, they officially spelled out that concentrated forms of cannabis — such as hash (or “dab”), wax, or honey oil — fall under the legal definition of medical marijuana.
This definition was loosely established in 1996, with the Compassionate Use Act (CUA). The law legalized medical marijuana in California, but did not articulate which forms of marijuana were legally permissible for patients with a doctor’s recommendation.
The presiding judge in Mulcrevy’s 2013 hearing, James R. Wagoner, ruled that possession of honey oil and hash was illegal because the CUA does not define medical marijuana as concentrated cannabis, reports Denny Walsh at the Sacramento Bee. Thus concentrated cannabis would not be legally permissible, despite Mulcrevy’s doctor’s recommendation.
In 2003, former Attorney General Bill Lockyer published his official opinion that concentrated cannabis is included in the legal definition of medical marijuana established in 1996.
Lockyer’s opinion reads: “Concentrated cannabis or hashish is included within the meaning of ‘marijuana’ as that term is used in the Compassionate Use Act of 1996.”
As the Attorney General, Lockyer’s interpretation of the law set a legal precedent for how authorities may enforce the law.
Dale Gieringer, state coordinator for the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws in California (NORML), said district attorneys and courts in several of California’s counties don’t always respect the precedent established by Lockyer in 2003, LA Weekly reports. Lockyer’s guidelines are enforced throughout most of California, yet, as seen with Mulcrevy, this wasn’t universally the case.
Mulcrevy’s trial court overstepped Lockyer’s opinion from 2003 with the assertion that it was “poorly reasoned.”
Santa Monica attorney Mieke ter Poorten said while misunderstandings like these rarely happen in Los Angeles and other big cities, law enforcement sometimes misunderstand or overstep guidelines such as those established by Lockyer, as Romero at the LA Weekly reported.
“A lot of times police don’t know what the law is,” said ter Poorten. “Medical marijuana law is changing so quickly that a lot of times the cops don’t have the continuing legal education they should have on these issues. You can’t blame them, because it’s moving so quickly. They would frequently arrest people for that. This ruling will actually wipe away that ambiguity for more conservative DAs.”
Officially spelling out Lockyer’s opinion clears up the gray area that has resulted in many erroneous arrests and sentences since 2003. By effectually setting it in stone, this ruling eliminates the possibility of disregarding Lockyer’s opinion, as happened in Mulcrevy’s case.
While Mulcrevy was shown justice in California, in other states, merely extending his probation would seem benign. Despite ample evidence that cannabis is less harmful than legal substances like alcohol and tobacco, and has medical uses, it remains illegal under federal law and it is technically a felony to possess any amount. The enforcement pertaining to cannabis varies state by state.
In Texas, for example, possession of concentrated cannabis has exceptionally severe consequences. Earlier this year, a Texas court sentenced 19-year-old Jacob Lavoro to ten years to life in prison for baking a tray of pot brownies. A petition with upward of 234,000 signatures protesting the harsh penalty pushed the court to soften his sentence, but he was still charged with two minor felonies, and could face 2 to 20 years in prison.
While marijuana laws are loosening throughout the nation and the majority of Americans think it should be legal and regulated like alcohol, there is still a good deal of change necessary before rational marijuana laws become the norm in the U.S.