State resumes medical marijuana ID card program

July 18, 2005

, The Times-Standard

California Health Director Sandra Shewry announced Monday that the state has resumed its Medical Marijuana ID Card program.

After receiving legal advice from the California attorney general that operating the pilot program would not aid and abet marijuana users in committing a federal crime, Shewry directed staff of the California Department of Health Services (CDHS) to resume operations that were suspended on July 8.

'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,' Shewry said. 'Today (Monday) the state resumed operating the Medical Marijuana ID Card program.'

But the attorney general also said that information received from applicants for medical marijuana ID cards may be obtained by federal officials to identify them for prosecution.

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In response, CDHS will be modifying the ID card application to inform applicants that possession of marijuana remains a federal crime and information provided by them could be used for federal prosecution, Shewry said.

Shewry added that CDHS will ask the three counties that have issued state ID cards to notify all card-holders of their risk for federal prosecution.

The Medical Marijuana Identification Card Program was designed to provide patients an ID card that could be used as evidence that they had received a recommendation from their physician to use marijuana for medicinal purposes. The card can assist law enforcement officials in determining whether an individual using marijuana meets the requirements of the Compassionate Use Act, which says that with the recommendation of a physician, a patient may obtain and use marijuana for personal medical purposes.

On June 6, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled against two California women who sought a decision that the federal government does not have jurisdiction to enforce federal law against individuals growing marijuana for their personal medical use. The court, however, determined that Congress does have the authority to prohibit local cultivation and use of marijuana.

Although the court's decision did not directly affect California's Compassionate Use Act, approved by voters in 1996, and state law, the decision raised questions about whether the state can legally conduct a program that assists in the violation of federal law. In an effort to clarify the issue, CDHS sought legal advice from the attorney general.

CDHS began pilot testing an identification card and registry system in three counties -- Amador, Del Norte and Mendocino -- in May. To date, 123 cards have been issued. With the resumption of the program, the pilot testing is scheduled to be completed at the end of this month and the program expanded statewide beginning Aug. 1.

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