Medical marijuana ID cards suspended

July 08, 2005

Lisa Leff, Associated Press

Citing uncertainty prompted by a recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling, California health officials suspended a program on Friday that had begun providing patients who smoke marijuana for medicinal reasons with state-issued identification cards.

State Health Director Sandra Shewry has asked the state Attorney General's Office to review the court ruling to determine whether the marijuana ID program would put patients and state employees at risk of federal prosecution.

A spokeswoman for Attorney General Bill Lockyer said his office would review the health department's request, but noted that Lockyer already has stated that nothing in the U.S. Supreme Court's ruling in Gonzales v. Raich mandates how California deals with the issue.

BACKGROUND

Last month, the Supreme Court said in a 6-3 decision that people who smoke marijuana because their doctors recommend it to ease pain or other conditions can be prosecuted for violating federal drug laws. The ruling did not strike down laws in California and nine other states that permit medical cannabis use, but said federal drug laws take precedence.

AT ISSUE

How card program started: Complying with a state mandate that lawmakers passed after California voters approved a medical marijuana law in 1996, the state health department in May launched a pilot pot card program.

Their purpose: To give medical pot users a way to show they have a legitimate reason for possessing pot if they are stopped by law enforcement.

How many issued: So far, cards have been issued to 123 people under the pilot program, which was due to expand statewide on Aug. 1.

Developments: After Friday's move, officials in the three counties already issuing the cards were told not to process any more applications. The health department also has postponed processing requests from other counties that wanted to start issuing the cards.



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