Medical Marijuana Coop Same as Food Coop

The Fourth District Court of Appeal recently reversed a trial court's decision to deny a defendant the right to argue to the jury that his actions complied with California's medical marijuana laws.

Recently, various law enforcement officials had taken the position that it was never legal for a medical marijuana dispensary to sell medicine to its members. Using a narrow interpretation of the Medical Marijuana Program Act (MMPA), some argued that marijuana could only be shared among members of a collective when each member assisted in the cultivation process.

Analogizing a marijuana coop with our ubiquitous food coops, the Court of Appeal in People v Jackson found that membership does not require participation in production. The percentage of food coop members that actually grow food, stock food, or sell food is obviously quite small in comparison to the percentage of coop members who simply buy food.

The Court of Appeal also noted that the Attorney General Guidelines specifically envisioned cases where dispensaries would sell marijuana to members that did not participate in the production.

Although the People v Jackson decision brought some clarity to a notoriously murky set of laws, it left open the question of what qualifies a coop as a nonprofit, finding that this decision can be left up to juries.  According to People v. Mower, however, courts should be dismissing cases where a defendant raises a reasonable doubt about whether his or her actions are legal.

Cooperatives should review the implications of People v. Jackson with their counsel to verify that they are protecting themselves and their members from potentially unnecessary legal battles regarding  a coops status as a nonprofit.