Supes OK medical marijuana ID cards

March 28, 2006

Sarah Lunsford, Calaveras Enterprise

Calaveras County residents who use marijuana medicinally can now participate in an identification program that could shield them from prosecution for possession of an illegal substance.

The identification card program was instated by Senate Bill 420 in 2003 as a response to the passage of Proposition 215 by voters in 1996. The proposition, commonly referred to as the Compassionate Use Act, allows those that are seriously ill to use marijuana medically.

The Calaveras County Board of Supervisors passed the changes necessary for the implementation of the ID program in Calaveras County by designating the Public Health Department as the lead agency in the issuance of the cards, along with approving a fee structure and adopting the statutory possession and cultivation limits allowed by state law.

The California Department of Health Services oversees the program, which is implemented by local counties and cities.

The law was introduced in an effort to shield seriously ill patients, their caregivers and recommending physicians from punishment or detainment in relation to their use of marijuana medicinally. Serious medical condition as defined in the law can include AIDS, anorexia, arthritis, cancer, chronic pain and migraine, among others.

The ID cards “reduce the risk of detainment and arrest and removal of their (patients) medicine,” said Aaron Smith, coordinator for Santa Rosa based Safe Access Now, an advocacy group that is working towards the implementation of the identification card system.

The ID program is completely voluntary. Those patients who use marijuana medicinally are not forced to participate in the program. Patients or their primary caregivers are allowed to apply for the cards provided they have a recommendation from a medical doctor or osteopathic practitioner licensed in California.

The processing fee when applying for the ID card will be $45 with $13 of that going to the state and the county keeping the remaining $32. Those who want to keep the ID cards must renew them annually and pay the $45 processing fee annually too.

Through its action, the board made the County Public Health agency the lead county agency for the ID card program.

That agency must collect the information necessary for processing the request which includes providing and accepting a completed application, checking that the recommending physician is licensed in California, as well as verifying the patient is a resident of the county.

Colleen Tracy, Director of the Public Health Agency, said the only documents that will be sent to the state are a photograph of the patient or caregiver and the individual’s ID number.

Although many states have given their approval for the medical use of marijuana, Federal law still bans its use and neither the ID program nor the Compassionate User Act changes that.

“One of the problems we had with Prop. 215 is there was absolutely no directive from the state,” and law enforcement should not be put in that position, said Sheriff Dennis Downum.

In that absence of direction, Calaveras County appointed a marijuana task force in 2000 charged with the duty of coming up with protocol for the implementation of the Compassionate Use Act. On the recommendation of that task force, the county adopted guidelines that allowed those who come under the act to possess a maximum of two pounds of processed marijuana and grow a maximum of six plants.

The guidelines for possession and cultivation are different under the codification of SB 420, with the limits now being that a patient possesses no more than eight ounces of dried marijuana and no more than six mature or 12 immature plants.

“SB420 guidelines are inadequate,” said Reverend Christopher DeMars. He pointed out that different patients need a different amount of cannabis to get relief and the limitations put on possession by the senate bill do not address these differences.

Marijuana yield at harvest is also a quandary for local law enforcement. Typically marijuana is harvested once a year and it is during that time that medicinal user may go out of compliance with the legal amount. Although they may want to harvest for an entire year, they are not allowed to possess that amount.

Although every local government body has the ability set its own guidelines about possession and cultivation, those bodies are also able to vote to accept state guidelines as their own.

“What we need in this county is absolute consistency with other jurisdictions throughout the state,” said Downum.

Supervisor Bill Claudino agreed.

“I think it’s very, very important to have consistency,” said Claudino. “(It) makes it easier on patients and law enforcement across the state.”

The board did vote for the acceptance of the state guidelines, but the question of whether or not the county’s own policies, which it has used to enforce the act since 2000, are still valid was raised.

“We understood the state standards would trump local policies,” said Director of Health Services Jeanne Boyce.

Contact Sarah Lunsford at slunsford@calaverasenterpise.com.



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