California puts medical marijuana program on hold

July 07, 2005

, Reuters

Following a Supreme Court ruling that said the U.S. government could prosecute medical marijuana use, California officials said on Friday they would stop issuing identification cards to state residents who smoke marijuana to treat medical conditions.

The state program has been suspended pending a legal review in light of last month's court decision, which said Congress may bar the cultivation and use of marijuana, State Health Director Sandra Shewry said in a statement.

Because the court affirmed that possessing marijuana is a federal crime, the health department is concerned its Medical Marijuana Identification Card Program 'potentially aids and abets individuals in committing a federal crime,' and that staff could face prosecution, she said.

Shewry said she had asked California Attorney General Bill Lockyer to review whether the program violated federal law.

A number of states have laws allowing individuals to use marijuana with a doctor's prescription. California voters approved such a law in 1996.

'It's puzzling. Other states have looked at the situation and have concluded there is no need to change anything,' said Bruce Mirken, director of communications for the Marijuana Policy Project, which advocates allowing patients with debilitating diseases such as cancer and AIDS to use marijuana. 'Attorney General Lockyer said essentially the same thing in his response to the Supreme Court's decision.'

California began its identification card program in May in three counties. It has issued 123 cards. The counties have been told to stop processing applications until further notice.

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