Monday, February 15, 2010

The Hidden Significance of People v. Kelly

In People v. Kelly (here), the California Supreme Court held that a statute limiting the amount of marijuana that a person could possess under Prop. 215 was an unconstitutional amendment to that initiative. The holding wasn't a big surprise--indeed, by the time the case got to the Supreme Court both the defense and the prosecution agreed that the statute was unconstitutional. The reason is simple: because Prop 215 didn't contain a quantity limit on how much marijuana someone could possess for their personal medical needs, the Legislature couldn't provide one, since to do so would abridge the rights granted by the initiative.

What's more interesting, though, is note 19 of the decision, where the Court questioned some of the broad language in earlier lower court decisions that had given a very expansive reading of what constitutes an impermissible amendment. The Court made clear in this footnote that, despite the language in cases such as Franchise Tax Bd. v. Cory, 80 Cal. App. 3d 772 (1980), the Legislature is free to clarify initiatives, or legislate on the same general or a related subject, as long as the new statute doesn't "take anything away" from the existing initiative. This is sure to be a fruitful area of litigation in the future.

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