Piloting the Not-So-Clear Skies of Medical Marijuana: The Trial Implementation of Statewide Prop. 215 ID's

May 17, 2005

Michael Riemenschneider, Ukiah Daily Journal

This world is rife with coincidence.

In gradual response to the 2003 passage of Senate bill (SB) 420, legislation creating a statewide medicinal marijuana identification system and database, seven California counties are expected to launch trials of the program. Mendocino County, as one of the few counties to already have established a medicinal marijuana identification system, is one of those seven.

The County Board of Supervisors heard the matter Tuesday, but postponed action until next week.

Proposition 215, by making medicinal marijuana legal in California but not clearly stating law enforcement specifics, has created an administrative nightmare. Interpretations vary widely across the state, and the quasi-legal status of the drug results in significant ambiguity. SB 420 was passed to make the law more uniform.

The trial program here will grant Mendocino County patients and caregivers an official card bearing the state's logo for a $50 fee. This identification card must be renewed yearly. Medi-Cal participants can deduct half of the card's cost. Law enforcement across the state will purportedly recognize and respect this card.

The County Public Health Department will administer the identification system, with state supervision coming from the California Department of Health Services (CDHS). If the matter is passed by the board next week, the identification system will begin the following day, May 25.

The other pilot counties are: Amador, Marin, Shasta, Trinity, Del Norte and Sonoma. Assuming these test programs work out any kinks, CDHS will make the SB 420 program effective statewide in August.

After making these details clear to the board, Director of Public Health Carol Mordhorst opened the floor for questions from the supervisors and the public.

Supervisor David Colfax began by asking questions about the cost of the program.

'When I look at the amount of work this takes on, I'm just wondering if there's ever been truly a cost analysis, particularly at this time when we are under such constraints for staff and budgeting.'

Supervisors Kendall Smith, Jim Wattenburger and Hal Wagonet asked similar questions regarding the potential cost and whether the state would be reimbursing the county. If there is a cost beyond the fee revenue, it will be assumed by the county, Mordhorst said.

Also of relevance, Colfax, Wagonet and Smith addressed the issue of medical privacy. 'The question is to staff. Can the state access (personal medical information) without the express release from the patient?' asked Wagonet.

Hearing a no' response, those worries were assuaged. Being a public discussion concerning marijuana, however, speakers gradually digressed to non-specific topics. Issues ranged from the nature of artificial fertilizer to the implementation of a different medicinal marijuana identification system.

Eventually, the board returned to the matter at hand. Wattenburger had already moved, and Colfax seconded, to postpone action on the matter until next week. The board voted 3-2 to approve the motion. Smith and Wagonet made up the minority, seeing nothing to gain in the next week.

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