Medical pot program opens in SBC

October 12, 2006

Melissa Flores, Pinnacle News

San Benito County residents with chronic illnesses will now be able to legally obtain and possess marijuana without fear of wrongful arrest.

The San Benito County Health and Human Services Public Health Division launched its medical marijuana program, which provides an identification card for patients who have been prescribed marijuana for medicinal purposes. It also registers patients and physicians with the California Department of Health Services.

Appointments to apply for cards are available on the first and third Tuesdays of each month between 1:30 p.m. and 4 p.m. So far the county hasn't served anyone with the new program.

"The state estimated how many people would be applying and they thought there would be a couple hundred people and their caretakers," said Liz Falade, the county's health officer. "We haven't served anyone yet."

Proposition 215, also known as the Compassionate Use Act of 1996, was the first statewide measure to allow marijuana for medical uses in the United States.

While patients have been allowed to use medical marijuana when prescribed since 1996, the state first launched its medical marijuana program to keep track of legal users in May 2005. The state health services department is still working with some counties to establish local programs, though many, like San Benito, have already started their own programs.

Medical marijuana patients are not required to get an ID card, but the ID cards and the registry are meant to keep those using marijuana legally from wrongful arrest and prosecution.

"It is a way to establish your credibility as a person who is entitled to have a certain amount of marijuana in their possession," Falade said.

The state guidelines allow marijuana use for patients who have been diagnosed with a serious medical condition for which the plant has been proven to subside some symptoms. Most of the diseases are those that have symptoms of debilitating pain or overwhelming nausea.

To apply for a medical marijuana ID card, residents have to show proof of residency in San Benito County, a government issued photo ID and a physician's recommendation. San Benito charges $40 for each card and it is valid for one year. Medi-cal patients pay only 50 percent, or $20 for the cards.

Primary caregivers are allowed to apply for an ID card if they can show that they are the person who provides housing or other services to a patient who has applied for a card. A primary caregiver can be a friend or family member or a healthcare worker at a clinic, hospice or other facility.

According to California Health and Safety code, qualified patients and primary caregivers can have up to eight ounces of dried marijuana, six mature plants or 12 immature plants per patient.

Marijuana has been prescribed to treat:
· anorexia
· arthritis
· cachexia, or wasting syndrome
· cancer
· chronic pain
· glaucoma
· migraines
· persistent muscle spasms, such as those associated with multiple sclerosis
· seizures
· severe nausea

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