A Temporary High

February 22, 2007

Ana La O’, LA City Beat

California’s medical marijuana patient I.D. program has struggled over the past three years, with low enrollment forcing the program to operate at a loss. But thanks to an impending 200 percent increase in card price, Palm Spring patients are now rushing to apply for I.D.s before it’s too late.

Since word spread that Riverside county I.D.s will jump from $100 to $220, starting July, Palm Springs’ card applications have increased from 12-15 applications every other week to over 20 applications for the first week of February.

“The increase in applications is the biggest demand that we’ve had since we started in 2005,” says Victoria Jauregui-Burns, program chief of Riverside County’s Aids/HIV and medical marijuana programs. “The [Riverside] program has been slow to launch.”

From December 2005 to January 2007, the county issued 390 cards and that number jumped to 414 during the first week of February. Twenty-one patients scheduled their card application appointments for the February 15 collection date.

Riverside County’s increased price corresponds to the steep hike in state card fees from $13 to $142, effective March 1. Counties issue the cards, adding their own fees onto the base state price. The state increase has been implemented to compensate for the I.D. program’s current deficit.

Today, only 24 out of 58 California counties have established I.D. programs and only 8703 out of the estimated 150,000-350,000 California marijuana patients carry cards. Activists say that most holdouts fear the federal government will use the cards to bust patients, since marijuana is still illegal at the federal level, but cards have evidently not been used in this way.

The 2004 bill, SB420, required all counties to issue voluntary cards to cannabis patients to protect them from unnecessary arrest and seizure of marijuana by local enforcement. The bill also sought to provide regulation for medical marijuana, which 1996’s Proposition 215, the initiative that legalized medical marijuana, severely lacked.

But SB420 never established deadlines or uniform guidelines for card distribution.

Although Palm Spring’s recent increase in applications might seem like good news for the struggling I.D. program, the boost is bound to be temporary. Once the increased price kicks in, the numbers will probably drop, says Burns. The Riverside County Board of supervisors will vote on the card price increase in July.

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