Medical Marijuana Program card fee will jump to $142

January 17, 2007

Josh Richman, ANG Newspapers

State-approved medical marijuana use is about to get much more expensive as the state raises its voluntary identification-card fee almost elevenfold.

The California Department of Health Services' fee for a Medical Marijuana Program card will go from $13 to $142 effective March 1.

State law requires "that the program is to be funded from the fees collected," department spokeswoman Michelle Mussuto said in an e-mail Wednesday. "An analysis of the cost to maintain minimum staff and operations determined the fee increase."

Counties can charge administrative fees atop the state fee.

In Alameda and San Francisco counties, for example, the cost is $50 -- although Medi-Cal beneficiaries can pay only half that -- so presumably the full cost in those counties will rise to at least $167, and to $192 for non-Medi-Cal patients, on March 1. San Mateo County's current state and local fees total $45; Contra Costa County's total $75; and Santa Clara County's total $60. San Joaquin County does not take applications for the cards.

Retired state Sen. John Vasconcellos, D-San Jose -- who created the ID-card program as part of his Senate Bill 420, signed into law just before he left the Legislature -- said Wednesday that the sudden increase seems enormous.

"It seems like a pretty large amount beyond what we expected it to be," he said, acknowledging the law requires the fees to bankroll the program but urging state officials to make "a public display of the math so they can be accountable."

Mussuto said 8,454 cards have been issued in the 24 counties that have implemented the program, in which patient and primary caregiver participation is voluntary.

The fee increase "certainly will not encourage people" to rush out to get the cards, said Americans for Safe Access spokesman William Dolphin. "It's an additional barrier ... and a substantially higher cost than would seem to be necessary for running the program."

Dolphin said his group believes the state should do all it can to encourage patients and providers to get the ID cards, as they help police avoid wasting time and taxpayer money on unfounded investigations.

SB 420 didn't include a deadline for launching the program, and 34 counties haven't done so; San Diego, San Bernardino and Merced counties sued to avoid it, but a Superior Court judge ruled against them in December. San Diego and San Bernardino counties will appeal the ruling.

Vasconcellos said Wednesday that he had hoped all counties would have adopted the ID card program by now, and that county officials using taxpayer dollars to fight duly passed laws "have no respect for the law" and "should be impeached."

SB 420 was meant to bring some order to the chaos that followed the passage of Proposition 215, the Compassionate Use Act of 1996, which legalized medical use of marijuana but provided little framework for distinguishing medical use from recreational use. SB 420 aimed to help law enforcement and qualified patients by creating a form of patient and primary-caregiver identification that would be official and uniform throughout the state.

Federal law bans possession, use and cultivation of marijuana, and federal prosecutions have ensued against people and entities arguably protected by state law. The state ID cards afford no protection against federal prosecution.

Reach Josh Richman of the Oakland Tribune at jrichman@angnewspapers.com.



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