Also known as California Proposition 215, the Compassionate Use Act of 1996 made headlines around the country as the first law ever to change the legality of medical marijuana for public consumption statewide. Originating in San Francisco, it was passed by 55.6% of California voters on November 5, 1996 (Human Rights and the Drug War). The ideology behind passing Prop. 215 is that marijuana contains a number of legitimate medical uses and should be made available to those who would benefit from it. The text of the proposed law states that “seriously ill Californians have the right to obtain and use marijuana for medical purposes where that medical use is deemed appropriate” (NORML, 2009). All patients possessing a reasonable amount of marijuana are protected and may use it at any time as long as it is done privately. However, before patients can begin using marijuana they must seek approval from a physician who are also protected under the law and cannot be persecuted for issuing a recommendation. The authors also realized there would need to be a safe and reliable source to obtain marijuana and intended Prop. 215 to encourage both “the federal and state governments to implement a plan to provide for the safe and affordable distribution of marijuana” (NORML). In addition to purchasing it, Prop. 215 also allows patients to cultivate their own plants but strictly for personal use only. Any evidence of distributing marijuana or growing more plants than needed for personal use carries a high risk of prosecution.
A Historical Perspective
Since marijuana has been illegal for many decades but only recently became legal for medical use, it begs the question why it took so long to make it accessible in the first place. Especially considering use of marijuana as medicine can be traced back as far as 2737 B.C. in ancient China when it was prescribed to treat conditions such as rheumatism and malaria (Stack, 2002). In modern society marijuana has always been considered a sort of taboo subject in the United States due mainly to the fact that it is illegal. Many people don’t realize however that considering the history of our country, marijuana has only been illegal for a relatively short time span. Several of our founding fathers, including George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, grew marijuana for hemp (the material derived from the plant) regularly and there is even speculation Washington smoked the plant occasionally. Back in those days marijuana did not have the sinister reputation it has today but instead was a vital part of colonial life, with the hemp material having a number of uses including rope, clothing, and paper (West, 1998). It wasn’t until the early 20th century that the public opinion regarding marijuana began to shift and restrictive laws were put in place that would eventually lead to illegalization.
While there were many different causes at work, one of the greatest factors that led to this shift in opinion was the media. William...