Medical marijuana ID cards available today

June 30, 2004

Erin Carlyle, Lompoc Record

Dr. David Bearman is sold on the value of medical marijuana. The Santa Barbara family practitioner says it is an effective treatment for a variety of problems - from asthma to attention deficit disorder to epilepsy and depression. Bob Lewis, a patient of Bearman, swears by it for depression and anxiety. Legal in California since 1996 for medical purposes, the drug has been hailed as a compassionate treatment for painful diseases such as cancer and AIDS.

Starting today, Lewis and other Santa Barbara County residents who use the drug for medical purposes may apply for a temporary identification card to serve as a line of defense if they face questioning from police.

A state law passed last year sets up guidelines for a statewide program to provide legitimate medical marijuana users - and their caregivers - with identification cards as a form of immunity against arrest. The cards are to be administered by counties and are voluntary for patients.

The county's temporary identification cards are designed to fill the gap until the statewide card program is implemented. Originally scheduled to begin in January, the state's program is not expected to be operating until next April, according to Michele Mickiewicz, deputy director of county Public Health.

Approved by a 3-2 vote by the county Board of Supervisors, the temporary county program was strongly opposed by law enforcement, who feared the interim cards would be difficult to verify and easy to counterfeit.

Senate Bill 420 calls for a statewide system of protocols and application forms, as well as a 24-hot line for law enforcement to verify that cards are valid.

In response to concerns of the County Law Enforcement Chiefs (CLEC) association, Public Health will provide card information to Sheriff's Department dispatchers so that deputies and officers on the street can verify the cards, Mickiewicz said.

Although he would have preferred to wait for the statewide program, Lompoc Police Chief William Brown - initially an adamant opponent of the county's plan - says he is pleased that there will be a way to verify the cards.

'My sense is that the cards will be a tangible piece of the puzzle to determine if someone's really in legal possession,' said Brown, adding that each law enforcement agency would determine its own policy.

'I'll be encouraging officers to take the card as evidence that someone has gone through the process,' Brown said. However, he noted that the cards will not be a carte blanche excuse for breaking the law.

Brown also said he is uncomfortable with the ongoing conflict between state and federal law about the legality of the drug. Federal law does not recognize marijuana as a legitimate medical treatment.

The Public Health Department has received about 20 calls since the temporary county cards were approved in April, and is expecting as many as 500 people to apply for the ID cards in the first year, Mickiewicz said.

The county spent $12,200 for start-up costs, including a card scanner and a printer and two digital cameras, and expects the program to cost $22,400 in subsequent years.

Patients who use medical marijuana may apply in person for an ID card starting today. Valid photo identification, proof of residency in Santa Barbara County, a doctor's letter, completed application form and $64 fee are required. Fees for MediCal recipients are $32.

To apply for the cards in Santa Maria, visit the Clerk-Recorder-Assessor's office at 511 E. Lakeside Parkway, Suite 115. On the South Coast, cards are available at the Public Health Department Office of Vital Records, 345 Camino del Remedio, 3rd Floor, Building 4.

Information and forms are available at Call 681-5150 for more information.

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