SLO marijuana cards to be considered

July 27, 2006

Sarah Arnquist, San Luis Obispo Tribune

In its second public hearing on medical marijuana in three weeks, the county Board of Supervisors on Tuesday is scheduled to consider an identification card program for patients who legally use the drug.

If the board approves the plan, San Luis Obispo County will become the 21st in California to issue the cards. Neighboring Santa Barbara and Kern counties already do.

Tuesday’s discussion comes two weeks after supervisors directed staff to draft an ordinance regulating the sale and distribution of medical marijuana in unincorporated areas.

ID program advocates, such as Aaron Smith of Safe Access Now, a lobbying group, say the IDs help law-enforcement officers distinguish legitimate users and protect patients and their medical-marijuana providers.

California voters approved Proposition 215 — also called the Compassionate Use Act — in 1996, legalizing marijuana for medical use.

In 2003, the Legislature passed a law that requires the Department of Health Services to create a statewide medical-marijuana patient identification program.

That law requires counties to issue cards to qualified medical-marijuana patients and providers. Those names go into an online registry that law enforcement officers can use to verify an ID card’s validity.

The county has limited discretion over the program. Public health officials recommend that the county charge $75 to $100 per card, limit the number of plants per patient to six mature or 12 immature plants, and limit marijuana providers’ patient load to 10.

County counsel recommends that supervisors approve the implementation of an ID-card program to comply with state law.

Assistant District Attorney Dan Hilford suggested in a memo to the supervisors that they wait for an opinion expected from the state attorney general on whether government employees who issue medical-marijuana patient ID cards are helping someone violate federal law.

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