Still No Medical Marijuana IDs Available in San Benito County

June 30, 2006

Banks Albach, Hollister Free Lance

Hollister - A county medical marijuana identification program approved by supervisors is getting closer to completion, but issuing the ID cards is as far as San Benito County will go in condoning the use of the controversial weed for medical purposes.

County staff is currently reviewing a proposed $40 application fee for the ID card and could move it to the board of supervisors for a vote by the end of July, said Health and Human Services Director, Kathy Flores.

"And that's optimistic," she said. "I am hoping, at the latest, that we could have something instituted by the end of the summer."

The board of supervisors approved the ID program in February, which is mandated by state law under proposition 215, the Compassionate Use Act. Voters passed the act in 1996. The board also made it clear at the same meeting that marijuana co-ops and clubs would not be allowed in the county.

And before the board votes on the program, it will hold a series of public hearings, said board Chair Pat Loe.

"It depends on how much public interest there is," she said. "We've always said that we would allow the public to comment."

Under the program, an extension of state law, eligible users must present a licensed physician's recommendation and pay the $40 fee once per year, or the ID expires. That number could rise or fall, depending on recommendations by staff before the vote.

If approved, applications will be accepted several times per month at the county building on San Felipe Road, in Hollister. A processing period follows.

Rather than shifting the cost of a controversial program to county residents, a user fee will pay for the service. Overhead includes a digital camera, staff hours and application and ID materials.

It's making the program more attractive to some on the county board.

"From what I understand, this program needs to pay for itself," said Anthony Botelho. "Whatever the number of applicants, whatever the costs, they need to be passed on to those particular users."

Botelho also reiterated his adamant stance against any marijuana dispensaries. He said he's willing to introduce legislation banning them in the county.

"I don't think this county should have dispensaries," he said. "Santa Cruz County has them."

Santa Clara County approved a similar program in January and has been issuing IDs for three months at $60 a pop. Proof of Medicare or Medicaid cuts the cost in half.

The program's turnout has been far less than expected, though, said Teresa Chagoya, spokesperson for Santa Clara's public health department. The state estimated there to be nearly 7,000 eligible applicants, while the county took a more conservative stance: 2,600. As of may, the county has issued 75 IDs.

"It's far less than we anticipated," she said.

Some counties have flatly refused to abide by the state law. San Diego's board of supervisors filed suit against the state of California in January, claiming that federal drug laws override proposition 215 and the state's mandate requiring the issuance of IDs. San Bernadino and Merced counties have joined the effort.

A superior court judge allowed the case to proceed on June 9th after hearing pleas from defendants to dismiss the case.

Banks Albach covers local government for the Free Lance. Reach him at 831-637-5566 ext. 335.

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