Thursday, January 21, 2010

People v. Kelly (Cal. Supreme Ct. - Jan. 21, 2010)

I'm somewhat of two minds about this morning's decision from the California Supreme Court. Notwithstanding the fact that it's utterly uncontroversial.

On the one hand, I'm glad that Chief Justice George's opinion helps make clear the somewhat messy interplay between the Compassionate Use Act ("CUA") -- the initiative that legalized medical marijuana -- and the Medical Marijuana Program ("MMP"), which was added by the Legislature and was an attempt to establish some practical guidelines in applying the CUA.

Particularly helpful for me was the Court's straightforward discussion of the fact that the CUA provides a defense to prosecution but not arrest, while the identification card provisions might well affect the latter. I've always understood this to be the case, but it's helpful to make this clear. You can still be arrested if you carry weed, since we need not simply trust you that your possession qualifies under the CUA. But we won't arrest you if you have a valid identification card and you're carrying under the numerical limits established by the MMP; namely, eight ounces of pot and/or six mature (or twelve immature) plants. It's helpful to spell that out, in addition to being an entirely correct interpretation of the interplay. So I like that part.

On the other hand, however -- and I recognize that this is perhaps me being overly grumpy -- given that both the Attorney General and the defendant essentially agreed to everything at issue in this appeal, was it really necessary for the Chief to write a 54 page opinion, an opinion that discusses at length the broad history of California's initiative process, the different and varying provisions of other states, blah blah blah? Yeah, at some level, that's interesting, to some people at least. But hardly necessary (or even close to necessary) to the result, a result that even the competing parties have already agreed upon.

Given both the unanimous nature of the opinion, the clearly correct result, the admissions of the parties, and the fact that I've rarely seen an appeal that was more easily decided, I think that I might have done this one in, say, 20 pages. Maybe even less. A little more than a one-sentence opinion that says "Everyone agrees, so here's the rule." But less than 56 tree-killing pages.