Supes OK Medical Marijuana IDs

February 14, 2006

Luke Roney, Hollister Free Lance

While the Board of Supervisors complied with state law Tuesday and approved a county program to issue medical marijuana identification cards to afflicted locals, supervisors made it clear that they did not want marijuana to be dispensed within the county. Under the program, county residents with a doctor's prescription for medical marijuana may apply to receive an ID card that will allow them to purchase and transport medical marijuana. The county won't actually be providing the marijuana, however a state law passed in 2003 requires all counties to offer medical marijuana ID cards to those with a doctor's prescription to use the drug to treat illnesses ranging from cancer and AIDS to anorexia and chronic pain.

Supervisors Anthony Botelho and Don Marcus said they had concerns about having a county medical marijuana ID program, however Supervisors Jaime De La Cruz and Reb Monaco said that they had no problem with it.

"In my book, it is still an illegal substance," Botelho said after the meeting. "I just don't want to see our program abused and subsidized by taxpayers."

San Benito's program will cost about $8,500 per year - which includes the purchase of a digital camera and other supplies. Those costs will be covered by a fee that participants will pay. There are 230 potential participants in San Benito, according to state estimates. The fee charged for an ID will be determined by an ongoing countywide fee study. While the medical marijuana ID program won't begin until the county's fee study is finished and a fee for the program has been determined, County Administrative Officer Susan Thompson said they are working hard to get the study done, but did not know exactly when that will be.

De La Cruz said that he supported the ID program and thought medical marijuana was a good thing for people suffering from an illness.

"I have friends who are sick, and actually they use medical marijuana," he said. "So I see the benefits first hand."

Though they hold different views on medical marijuana, supervisors were united in their desire not to have medical marijuana dispensed in San Benito.

"At this point, unless we hear more testimony I'd be opposed to dispensaries in the county," Marcus said.

De La Cruz said that having establishments that distribute medical marijuana within the county would make it easier for the general population to obtain marijuana for non-medical use.

"We will provide the card only," he said, "but not allow people to sell marijuana."

Medical marijuana is dispensed through clubs and cooperatives, rather than through the government. Within the region, there are medical marijuana cooperatives in Santa Cruz.

Before voting to approve the medical marijuana ID card program, the board directed county staff to draft an ordinance prohibiting medical marijuana dispensaries within the county.

During Tuesday's meeting, Sheriff Curtis Hill was neutral on the issue of ID cards. He said he will work with the county health department to make sure all his deputies knew what the cards looked like and how they are issued.

"For me it's a non-issue," he told supervisors. "We're going to follow what (the law) says."

After the meeting Hill said that if a deputy stops a person who has marijuana and a medical marijuana ID card, the deputy will allow that person to keep the marijuana and be on their way, unless there is some other violation.

Hollister Police Chief Jeff Miller also told supervisors that he doesn't have any major concerns about the county's medical marijuana ID card.

While San Benito is adhering to the law, not all of California's 58 counties are willing to go along with it.

In January, San Diego County sued the state of California and its director of health services, saying federal law that prohibits marijuana use trumps state law that allows it. Soon after, San Bernadino County joined the lawsuit. California voters approved the use of marijuana for medical purposes a decade ago with the with the passage of Proposition 215.

The debate made its way to San Benito County last month in a court case involving medical marijuana which was confiscated by the Hollister-Gilroy California Highway Patrol. In defiance of a court order, CHP Cmdr. Otto Knorr had refused to return the marijuana for months, saying it would violate federal drug laws. However, on direction from the Attorney General's Office, Knorr relented just days before a contempt of court hearing which was scheduled for January.

During Tuesday's meeting, Knorr voiced concerns about people not having their ID cards with them while they are transporting marijuana, ID cards being counterfeited and people driving under the influence of marijuana, which is illegal regardless of whether a person has an ID card.



Luke Roney covers local government and the environment for the Free Lance. Reach him at 831-637-5566 ext. 335 or at lroney@freelancenews.com


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