Why medical pot registry is urgent

April 15, 2005

EDITORIAL, The Tribune (San Luis Obispo)

We would like to see some clarity, cost effectiveness and compassion when it comes to the issue of medicinal marijuana.

Here's the issue: Morro Bay police arrested Robert Marshall for growing marijuana -- seizing 75 of his plants in the process. Marshall admitted growing the pot but said it was legal for him to do so under the Compassionate Use Act passed by California voters in 1996. Late last month, a judge sided with him and dropped the charges.

Marshall's experience isn't unusual. Elsewhere in California, medical marijuana growers have wound up in court -- in part because the state has yet to develop a uniform way to identify those authorized to grow the drug.

As we see it, such prosecutions cost everyone involved, including taxpayers, and that's something we can ill afford in this time of fiscal uncertainty.

Some counties have taken the initiative to establish their own registries. Santa Barbara County, for example, set up a registration program nearly a year ago, in consultation with law enforcement. Since July, Santa Barbara County has issued 200 ID cards to caregivers and to patients.

Other counties, including San Luis Obispo, have been waiting for the state to issue guidelines for registries.

That wait may be nearing an end. Nine years after voters approved the Compassionate Use Act, the state Department of Health Services finally is moving forward with a pilot registry program, due to kick off in May.

Once the pilot period has ended, all counties will be required to issue ID cards. That could happen as early as August.

Seven counties have signed up to take part in the pilot, though San Luis Obispo County is not among them.

'We thought they ought to work out the bugs,' said Greg Thomas, county health officer. 'We would be very happy to sign on after they've got the kinks worked out.'

We urge the state Health Services Department to work out those kinks as quickly as possible, but if the agency drags its feet, San Luis Obispo County should begin the registry process on its own -- saving police and prosecutors needless time and expense, and sparing caregivers and their patients undue pain down the road.



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