BOS to consider ID cards for medical marijuana patients

November 27, 2006

Tiffany Revelle, Record-Bee (CA)

LAKE COUNTY -- Those using marijuana for medicinal purposes in Lake County may soon join almost 3,000 of their counterparts statewide who have access to county-issued identification cards to protect their legal rights under the Compassionate Use Act of 1996, and the more recent Senate Bill 420.

The county Board of Supervisors will consider adopting an ordinance implementing the Medical Marijuana ID Card Program and establish dispensation fees.

The Compassionate Use Act was passed in 1996 by 56 percent of California's voters, and protects patients with a recommendation from a medical doctor for any debilitating illness, according to the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML). Some common ailments for which a doctor may prescribe medical marijuana include arthritis, cachexea, cancer, chronic pain, HIV or AIDS, epilepsy, migraine and multiple sclerosis.

SB 420 took the legislation to the next level, requiring the state health department to establish a voluntary medicinal marijuana patient registry, and to issue identification cards to qualified patients.

A Nov. 16 Supreme Court ruling by Superior court Justice William R. Nevitt, Jr. rejected a claim by San Diego, San Bernardino and Merced counties that the federal Controlled Substances Act preempted the Compassionate Use Act.

Since Senate Bill 420 became law in January 2004, "there has been a lot of stalling on the State Department of Health side," said Aaron Smith, statewide coordinator for Safe Access Now. The California advocacy group has worked to promote the Medical Marijuana ID Card Program since it recognized the need just over a year ago, said Smith.

The November ruling, said Smith, "further solidifies the strength of California's medical marijuana laws, which are widely supported by the voters."

He and his colleagues at Safe Access Now started the push last year for California's 58 counties to implement the program since the passage of SB 420. "The counties weren't moving forward as fast as we had hoped," Smith said Friday. He noted that Lake County would be the 26th county to adopt the program, bringing the count to just under half.

SB 420 mandates that counties make the ID card program available on a voluntary basis to medical marijuana patients, which may serve to lessen "unnecessary detainment, arrest or seizure of medicine from qualified medical marijuana patients," said Smith.

Smith called the program a "win-win for the patient community as well as the law enforcement community," noting that it would bring the county into compliance with state law, create less hassle for patients and take less law enforcement personnel time verifying recommendations.

Smith explained that currently patients may be asked to show a doctor's note or a written recommendation in the event that they are stopped by law enforcement. "If somebody were pulled over ... during a holiday or after hours, what happens is the law enforcement officer attempts to verity the legitimacy of the recommendation by calling the doctor's office, and that's very hard to verify. With the ID card on the other hand, the registry program is available 24-7," said Smith.

ID cards issued to the nearly 3,000 California patients include a photo, identification number and expiration date. Including a patient's name and address, noted Smith, would violate medical privacy laws. The cards display a holographic seal with California's state seal in the corner to make them hard to duplicate.

In a recent press release, Smith praised Lake County's Board of Supervisors for "taking up this important issue and (we) are hopeful that Lake County's officials will listen to their constituency and vote to protect local patients."

The board will consider the Lake County Health Department's proposal to issue the cards Tuesday morning at 10:10 a.m. at the courthouse in Lakeport.

Contact Tiffany Revelle at

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