Medical marijuana cards available today

November 30, 2005

Erica Solvig, The Desert Sun

Riverside County today joins the statewide medical marijuana identification card program for those who have a doctor's permission to use the drug.

Officials estimate Riverside County could see 3,000 to 4,000 people apply for the card, which costs $100 - or $50 for patients who have Medi-Cal.

The cards are optional; patients only need a doctor's note to legally use marijuana.

But the card can help protect patients from criminal prosecution if local law enforcement stops them.

"I kind of liken the ID card to a driver's license," says Palm Springs resident Lanny Swerdlow, a Marijuana Anti-Prohibition Project activist who plans to get the card but declined to discuss his health history.

"If you are driving a car and the police stop you, you show them your license and they can't arrest you," Swerdlow said. "If you don't have the license when they stop you, they can arrest you and they can take your car. The same thing with the medical marijuana card."

Appointments are available through the county Public Health Department.

Applicants must have a valid identification card, proof of residency and a doctor's recommendation.

The statewide card program began this summer. California is one of 10 states that allow medical marijuana use, though patients could still face federal prosecution.

Patients have been known to use marijuana for diseases such as AIDS, cancer and glaucoma.

The county's Department of Public Health has already received a number of phone calls from people wanting to get the card.

"It's really an optional card," says Victoria Jauregui Burns, chief of the health department's HIV/AIDS program. "You're not required by law to get it. We're going to be watching as much as everyone else just how receptive everyone is."

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