Siskiyou isn't yet in medical marijuana ID card plan

March 08, 2005

Pat Arnold, Mt. Shasta News

Within the next few months, health departments in 10 California counties are implementing a pilot program for the issuance of identification cards to medical marijuana users. Siskiyou County is not one of those 10 counties.

A voluntary identification card program for medical marijuana users was authorized in 2003, by a law sponsored by former State Senator John Vasconcellos of San Jose. But at the time Vasconcellos' bill was introduced, there was no money available to implement the program. Since then, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger has approved a $1.5 million start-up loan for the program, authorities say.

The cost to state and local governments to operate a voluntary ID card program has been estimated at $4 million per year, but it is anticipated that in time the program will pay for itself from fees charged to cardholders for the issuance and renewal of cards.

Siskiyou County Public Health Officer Dr. David Herfindahl said this program is currently in the planning stages and in all likelihood will not make its way to Siskiyou County before the end of the year.

The State Department of Health Services is responsible for formulating the regulations to operate the ID program and so far none of those regulations have made their way to Siskiyou County, Herfindahl said.

The program contemplates a system where patients desiring to obtain an ID card would be required to see a licensed physician to make a determination whether medical marijuana is warranted for their particular illness.

The patient would then bring a written prescription from the physician to the local health department, who would confirm the patient's identity and that the patient had a face-to-face meeting with the physician making the recommendation for the use of medical marijuana. Once that information has been verified, the process of issuing an ID card that includes a photograph of the patient would begin.

'It is not the job of the health department to second guess or confirm the medical decisions of a physician,' Herfindahl said, adding that the only role of the county health department in this program would be to confirm that the prescription was written by a licensed physician and confirm the identity of the patient presenting the prescription.

Planners say the identity of patients who are valid cardholders will be made part of a database at a web site accessible to law enforcement on a 24-hour a day, seven day a week basis. Only law enforcement would have access to the information in the database, State Department of Health Services said.

Obtaining a card is not mandatory, but advocates of the ID card system are hopeful that medical marijuana users throughout California will be part of the ID card program, as users in Alaska, Hawaii, Nevada, Oregon and Washington already are.

Advocates say the benefit of having an ID card is that if law enforcement stops someone at any hour of the day or night, they will be able to confirm the identity of the cardholder, the validity of the card and the cardholder's right to possess marijuana.

'We are still batting numbers around, and until it actually starts happening, we really don't know the number of cards that will be issued or what the cost to the cardholder will be,' a representative of the State Department of Health Services said.

The pilot program for the issuance of ID cards will be instituted this summer in Amador, Del Norte, Trinity, Mendocino, Marin, Shasta, Sonoma, Sacramento, Santa Cruz and Yuba counties. Cards for the remaining 48 counties in California are expected to become available at the end of the year, officials said.

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