Supervisors give go-ahead to medical marijuana ID program

August 01, 2006

Sarah Arnquist, San Luis Obispo Tribune

Toni Paradis of Atascadero will no longer have to make the 500-mile round-trip to Oakland to renew her disabled son’s medical marijuana identification card because a local program will begin soon.

The Board of Supervisors directed the Public Health Department on Tuesday in a 3-2 vote to implement a medical marijuana ID program as mandated by state law. Supervisors Jerry Lenthall and Harry Ovitt dissented.

Paradis said the ID program validates and protects legitimate medical marijuana users such as her son, 26-year-old Matthew Green, who is permanently disabled with spastic quadriplegia. Green uses marijuana to control his movements, improve his appetite and sleep, Paradis said.

"I don’t want people exploiting the system so they can smoke pot," she said.

A 2003 state law requires counties to issue cards to qualified medical marijuana patients and their primary caregivers. Those names then go into an online registry that law enforcement officers can use to verify an ID card’s validity.

San Luis Obispo County will be the 21st in California to issue the cards. The decision came two weeks after supervisors directed staff to draft an ordinance regulating the sale and distribution of medical marijuana in unincorporated areas.

"Since we do have medical marijuana dispensaries in San Luis Obispo County, and we do have people authorized to use medical marijuana, it only makes sense that we make this program available," Supervisor James Patterson said.

There is one dispensary in the county, currently operating in Morro Bay.

The supervisors discussed at length the discrepancies between state and federal law regarding marijuana use. Federal law prohibits the use or sale of marijuana. In 1996, California voters passed Proposition 215 — also known as the Compassionate Use Act — legalizing marijuana for medical use.

The county will recoup the costs for the program by charging between $75 and $100 for the ID cards. The program limits the amount of marijuana a person can have at one time to 8 ounces, six mature plants or 12 immature plants.

Lenthall, who with Ovitt voted against creating a local ID program, suggested waiting six more months to see if the California Attorney General’s Office came out with an official opinion on whether government employees who issue medical marijuana patient ID cards are helping someone violate federal law.

County counsel advised the supervisors they should follow current state law.

"If you have a discrepancy between federal and state law, the only thing you can do is take the compassionate route," Supervisor Shirley Bianchi said.

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