Medical Pot Advocates Decry State Fee Increase

January 18, 2007

Bay City News Service, CBS 5 TV (San Francisco)

A steep rate hike in state fees to obtain a medical marijuana identification card has advocates worried about hassled patients and wasted police resources.

The state fee is currently $13, but it will rise to $142 on March 1. Patients aren't currently required to have the identification cards in order to purchase medical marijuana. However, the cards are a tool for police to quickly determine that a patient is using marijuana legally, and offer the user protection against being mistakenly arrested by local or state law enforcement.

The federal government does not recognize Proposition 215, California's Compassionate Use Act of 1996, which legalized medical marijuana, and the identification cards do not protect against federal prosecution. The identification card program, also known as Senate Bill 420, was passed in 2004 in the hopes of helping law enforcement and protecting patients.

The rate hike "is obviously a significant barrier for patients being able to receive the full protection of the law,'' William Dolphin, spokesman for Americans for Safe Access, said today.

The 11-fold increase is a matter of funding and the way the law is set up, according to Michelle Mussuto, state Department of Health spokeswoman.

"In order for the program to exist, it has to be funded by fees, according to the law. The fees from the cards sustain the program,'' she said.

The state requires counties to offer the identification card program to medical marijuana users, but there is no deadline for when they must comply. To date, 24 of California's 58 counties have offered the program -- fewer than the state anticipated. That means less money in fees for the state to run the program, Mussuto said.

"In order to sustain the program -- make sure the database is kept up to date and we have staff -- we have to use the money from those fees,'' she said.

But Dolphin said the state is looking at the funding situation the wrong way. The cards discourage wrongful arrests and seizures of property, actually saving the state money, he said.

"Any time you put someone through the judicial system, you're talking about an enormous cost to the taxpayers,'' he said. "While they say they're trying to cover their costs, they would save money by making the cards more readily available.''

Kevin Reed, president and founder of The Green Cross, a San Francisco medical marijuana dispensary, wrote a letter to the San Francisco Board of Supervisors Thursday urging them to take action against the state increase.

The city's medical marijuana dispensary ordinance, passed before the state rate increase, will require marijuana dispensaries to check the state IDs of their patients, Reed said. The cost of the state ID card, along with county fees, doctors' visits and additional ID cards for caregivers, would be too heavy a burden to bear for many bedridden patients, he said.

Reed suggested San Francisco go back to issuing inexpensive medical marijuana cards at the county level "at least until the state card situation has worked out the kinks and all counties are online to share the financial burden of the program.''

San Francisco Supervisor Ross Mirkarimi, who authored the city ordinance, was not available for comment today.



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