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The People v. Jovan Christian Jackson

October 24, 2012


APPEAL from a judgment of the Superior Court of San Diego County, Howard H. Shore, Judge. (Super. Ct. No. SCD222793)

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Benke, Acting P. J.



Defendant and appellant Jovan Christian Jackson was charged with the sale of marijuana and possession of marijuana for sale. Prior to his trial the People filed a motion under Evidence Code section 402 for an order preventing him from offering evidence he was entitled to the defense provided by the Medical Marijuana Program Act (MMPA), Health & Safety Code*fn1 section 11362.7 et seq. to patients who associate for the purpose of collectively cultivating medical marijuana.

At the hearing on the People's motion, Jackson testified he, and approximately five other individuals, were actively engaged in cultivating marijuana and providing it to themselves and the approximately 1,600 other members of their medical marijuana collective. Jackson testified each member of the collective was required to show proof marijuana had been prescribed to the member by a medical professional for treatment of a medical condition. Jackson further testified the collective did not generate any profits for either himself or the other active participants. Jackson offered no testimony with respect to how the collective was governed.

The trial court found Jackson presented sufficient evidence the collective's members were qualified patients within the meaning of the MMPA and the collective was not operated on a for profit basis. However, the trial court found that in light of the large number of members of the collective, Jackson could not establish the collective was operated for the purpose of collectively cultivating marijuana within the meaning of the MMPA as opposed to simply distributing marijuana. Thus, the trial court granted the People's motion and prevented Jackson from offering any defense under the MMPA. Jackson was convicted and the trial court imposed three years of formal probation.

We reverse Jackson's conviction. In opposing the People's motion, Jackson's burden was not very great. Jackson was only required to produce evidence which would create a reasonable doubt as to whether the defense provided by the MMPA had been established. The defense the MMPA provides to patients who participate in collectively or cooperatively cultivating marijuana requires that a defendant show that members of the collective or cooperative: (1) are qualified patients who have been prescribed marijuana for medicinal purposes, (2) collectively associate to cultivate marijuana, and (3) are not engaged in a profit-making enterprise. As we interpret the MMPA, the collective or cooperative association required by the act need not include active participation by all members in the cultivation process but may be limited to financial support by way of marijuana purchases from the organization. Thus, contrary to the trial court's ruling, the large membership of Jackson's collective, very few of whom participated in the actual cultivation process, did not, as a matter of law, prevent Jackson from presenting an MMPA defense.

However, we also recognize that in determining whether a MMPA defense has been established, a trier of fact must consider whether the organization operates as a for profit enterprise or is a nonprofit enterprise operated for the benefit of its members. In resolving that question, an organization's large membership and governance processes, if any, are relevant.

As we explain, where, as here, a collective has a large membership, the overwhelming number of whom do not, in any fashion, participate in the operation or governance of the collective and there is evidence of a high volume of purchases by the members, a trier of fact could reasonably conclude that, notwithstanding Jackson's testimony to the contrary, the organization is a profit-making enterprise which distributes marijuana to customers rather than to members of a nonprofit collective organization and is therefore outside the scope of the defense offered by the MMPA. Thus, on remand, the jury should be instructed that in determining whether Jackson is entitled to a defense, the jury must determine whether the collective he participates in is a profit-making enterprise and further that in resolving that question, it should consider, in addition to other evidence of profit or loss, the size of the collective's membership, the volume of purchases from the collective and the members' participation in the operation and governance of the collective.


Jackson has been prosecuted twice with respect to his operation of a medical marijuana dispensary operating under the name Answerdam Alternative Care (Answerdam). In 2009 Jackson was acquitted of five counts related to the possession and sale of marijuana. At Jackson's first trial, the jury was instructed with respect to the defense for marijuana collectives and cooperatives provided by the MMPA, in pertinent part, as follows: "A person is not guilty of the crimes charged in Counts 1-5 if his actions are exempted under the Medical Marijuana Program. The Medical Marijuana Program provides that qualified patients [and their designated primary caregivers] may associate within the State of California in order collectively or cooperatively to cultivate marijuana for medical purposes.

"A qualified patient is someone for whom a physician has previously recommended or approved the use of marijuana for medical purposes. [¶] . . . [¶]

"Collectively means involving united action or cooperative effort of all members of a group.

"Cooperatively means working together or using joint effort toward a common end.

"Cultivate means to foster the growth of a plant.

"If you have reasonable doubt about whether, at the time of the crimes charged in Counts 1-5, the defendant was a qualified patient [or primary caregiver], and that he committed the crimes solely because he was associating within the State of California in order collectively or ...

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