Changes made to medicinal marijuana program

January 04, 2006

Randi Block, Lompoc Record

Based on a mandate requiring Santa Barbara County to align its medical marijuana program with the state, participants will have to pay almost twice as much for an identification card.

The county Board of Supervisors approved the change Tuesday, which will take effect in February and should affect about 350 county residents.

Fifth District Supervisor Joe Centeno, who represents Santa Maria, said while he did not agree with the basis for the marijuana program, he supported the changes because they would make it easier for law enforcement to identify legitimate identification cards.

“The way it is now, there is too much room for abuse, so I'm not in favor of the project as constituted today, but it will be easier for our law enforcement people,” he said.

Proposition 215 was passed in 1996 and allowed people to use marijuana if it was deemed necessary for medical purposes. However, concerns about inadequate regulation of this program, led to Senate Bill 420 in 2003, requiring identification cards for participants.

When California delayed the start of its program, the county initiated its own in April 2004 and 362 people have signed up since its inception.

Within the last few months, however, the state has implemented a program that all counties are required to join.

Starting in February, when identification cards expire people will be required to apply for the new state program. Each person's information will be entered into a database that officials can access statewide.

This is an advantage to police who previously had trouble verifying the validity of cards that were not issued in the county, since each jurisdiction had a separate system.

Under the new program, the state will produce the identification cards and handle the appeals and denial processes.

The cost of participating in the voluntary marijuana program almost doubled due to the need to replace equipment and recoup lost revenue, said Michael Harris, deputy director of the Public Health Department.

Non-Medi-Cal eligible patients will now have to pay $108 instead of $64 and those eligible for Medi-Cal will be charged $54, up from $32.

This increase is partially an attempt to recoup lost revenue, because the county had estimated that 500 people would participate in the program, but only 362 did, amounting to a $20,000 shortfall, Harris said.

The county hopes to make up the money within four years, and will reduce the fee if the effort is successful.

Also included in the price hike is money to pay for the equipment required to switch to the new program and a state portion of the fee.

Although a lot of money has to be spent on new equipment, Harris said many of the cameras would have to be replaced soon anyway since they are aging.

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