Medical marijuana ID cards come with uncertainty

November 10, 2005

Annette Wells, Inland Valley Daily Bulletin

JOSHUA TREE - One hundred dollars, a chronic medical condition and a note from a doctor can get you free reign to possess and use marijuana.

Just don't get too happy -- Federal law trumps California's.

That's the lesson people learned in Joshua Tree on Thursday as public health officials announced future compliance under Senate Bill 420 and the issuance of a possible 7,000 Medical Marijuana ID cards.

Passed in 2003, the law imposed statewide guidelines outlining how much medical marijuana could be grown and possessed.

It also required the state's Department of Health Services to establish a voluntary medicinal marijuana patient registry and issue identification cards to qualified patients.

Individual public health agencies are responsible for issuance of those cards.

"The card is really going to be a driver's license-type in that it will be valid throughout the state of California," said Jim Felten, the county's public health director during the special meeting organized by the Marijuana Anti-Prohibition Project.

The group has chapters in San Bernardino and Riverside counties.

More than 100 people packed a room inside Joshua Tree's community center for the meeting. Most, if not all, were medical marijuana users.

Many were so anxious for Felten and the program's manager, Kathie Pelletier, to answer their individual questions that they often interrupted each other.

At one point, a woman stood up and said nothing was being accomplished and that the meeting needed to be more focused.

"I can't stay here till 4 (p.m.) listening to individual stories," she said. About half the crowd applauded the woman's efforts.

Pelletier said the program should be under way in January and would require appointments and applications. Applications will have to be accompanied by a written recommendation from a physician, medical records and proof of residency.

The application, medical records and written recommendation are required during the appointment as well as the $100 fee.

If all goes well, the applicant's name will be put into the state's database, the individual will receive a number and within five days of the name placement, ID cards will be issued.

The entire process should take no more than 30 days, which angered some attendees.

"People, be glad we're able to do this," said Lanny Swerdlow, president of the organization.

Denied applicants will be required to apply again.

Though ID cards aren't mandatory under SB 420 you only need a physician's written recommendation Swerdlow said it's a good way to stay out of jail.

Concerned about federal law though, Swerdlow asked if public health planned to keep records of applicants.

Pelletier said last week, the state health agency alerted counties they had to retain all records of medical marijuana users.

Swerdlow then asked if public health planned to abide by that.

"We have to," Pelletier said.

He then said, though it's a small chance, DEA agents could ask public health for those records, then arrest people who are in possession of marijuana.

Under SB 420 guidelines, qualified patients and/or their primary caregivers may possess no more than eight ounces of dried marijuana and/or six mature marijuana plants.

Conditions typically covered by the law include but are not limited to arthritis; cachexia; cancer; chronic pain; HIV or AIDS; epilepsy; migraine; and multiple sclerosis.

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