California resumes medical marijuana program

July 17, 2005

Associated Press, San Diego Union Tribune

State officials revived California's medical marijuana identification card program Monday, saying state employees weren't violating federal law by issuing pot ID cards.

'The state attorney general has reviewed this concern and said that California can issue ID cards to medical marijuana users without state employees facing prosecution for assisting in the commission of a federal crime,' state Health Director Sandra Shewry said in a statement.

1 src='http://oas.signonsandiego.com/RealMedia/ads/adstream_jx.cgi/www.uniontrib.com/news/state/20050718-1842-ca-medicalmarijuana.html@x32'> Shewry's office shuttered the pilot program 10 days ago, citing concerns over a recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling.

Last month, the court ruled 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.

In a legal review sought by Shewry, Attorney General Bill Lockyer said that employees issuing the IDs could not be prosecuted for aiding or abetting the violation of a crime.

Lockyer's office also said that the information collected from applicants could be obtained by federal authorities and used to identify and prosecute medical marijuana users.

Health department spokesman Ken August said he was not aware of federal agents requesting such information.

Shewry said a new program application would state clearly that information submitted could be turned over to federal authorities and that possession of marijuana remains a federal crime.

The 123 people who already have been issued the IDs will be also be contacted, August said.

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 the pilot pot card program in Amador, Del Norte and Mendocino counties.

One purpose of the cards is to give medical pot users a way to show they have a legitimate reason for possessing pot if they are stopped by law enforcement.

The pilot program will is scheduled to be complete by the end of the month and expand statewide on Aug. 1.



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