County should begin issuing medical marijuana ID cards

May 23, 2006

F. Aaron Smith, Oroville Mercury-Register

Imagine if you were living with a serious illness with very few options for treatment, but there was a drug available that helped you to live as close to a healthy, productive life as you could reasonably expect. The only problem is that the medicine your doctor recommends can easily be mistaken for a form of the drug that is illegal. At any time, you could be stopped by a law enforcement officer and have to provide documentation that you have the drug legally.

While your kids wait for you at home, the officer tries to reach your doctor, who has already left the office for the day.

The officer decides to confiscate your medicine and set a court date to work out the confusion. You have to miss work to go to courtóand even when the judge acknowledges you did nothing wrong, thereís no guarantee that the same thing wonít happen again next week.

An estimated 900 to 1,100 patients in Butte County who are currently using marijuana under state law to treat such afflictions as multiple sclerosis, AIDS, severe arthritis and cancer, risk facing this scenario every day.

A decade ago, when voters passed the landmark initiative that made possession, cultivation and use of marijuana for medical purposes legal under California law, the directive was clear: ensure patientsí safe and legal access to their medicine. Making that a reality, however, has been a challenge.

To address the concerns of both the patient and law-enforcement communities, the state established guidelines known as the Medical Marijuana Program Act in 2003.

Perhaps the most important part of our stateís Medical Marijuana Program is the establishment of a statewide voluntary ID card program for qualified patients and their caregivers. Many patients choose to become cardholders because it greatly reduces their risk of arrest or detainment by state and local law enforcement.

In November of 2005, the Butte County Department of Public Health drafted a proposal to begin issuing the cards with a $56 fee per applicant. Unfortunately, the issue was tabled by the Board of Supervisors, essentially killing the program.

The county is required by state law to make the cards available.

Once the countyís medical marijuana ID card program is in place, officers will be able to verify a patientís legal status in minutes by utilizing the statewide database. This program will not only further protect patients, it will also free up the valuable time of law enforcement officers serving the community. It is for this reason that both the County Sheriff and District Attorney support the program.

Our medical marijuana laws have gained broad support across the political spectrum. An independent Field Poll conducted in 2004 found that 74 percent of voters support the implementation of Californiaís medical marijuana lawsó64 percent of Republicans and 84 percent of Democrats.

The Board of Supervisors should immediately approve the health departmentís original plan and resume the medical marijuana ID card program.

The health and safety of local patients depends on it.


F. Aaron Smith is the statewide coordinator with Safe Access Now, an organization dedicated to the implementation of fair and consistent guidelines in all California counties as a safe harbor from arrest under H&S Code ß11362.5, the Compassionate Use Act of 1996.

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