Marijuana cards taking price hike

January 14, 2007

K. Kaufmann, The Desert Sun

 Call it the ultimate high.

The cost for state-issued medical marijuana identification cards is set go up March 1, from the $13 the state now charges to $142.

The state Department of Health Services announced the more than 1,000 percent increase to county health departments in a letter sent the end of December.

The cost for Medi-Cal patients will go up to $71 per card.

"It was quite a shock," said Victoria Jauregui Burns, who heads the ID card program in Riverside County. "We're still trying to catch our breath."

The county now charges $100 for cards, $50 for Medi-Cal patients. Burns said the county would be deciding in the next few weeks how much those fees might have to go up to cover the state increases.

"This will be one more reason (for not getting a card)," said Lanny Swerdlow, president of the Marijuana Anti-Prohibition Project, a patients' advocacy group,

"They should be doing something to help people get the card," said Swerdlow. "A driver's license doesn't cost that much."

Since the county began taking applications for cards in December 2005, 373 have been issued.

Statewide, about 8,454 cards have been issued, said Michelle Mussuto, a spokeswoman for the state health department.

But Swerdlow estimated that more than 100,000 patients statewide have a doctor's letter of recommendation to use medical marijuana legally under state law. Federal law prohibits any use, cultivation or sale of marijuana.

The low response to the card program, established under Senate Bill 420 in 2003, is a major reason for the increase. The law makes the card voluntary for patients, but requires the program pay for itself.

"To maintain the database, you're paying people to do administrative work," Mussuto said. "Whether you have one card or 8,000 cards issued, you need people to do that work, who provide assistance to counties on the rules and regulations. That's what the money goes for."

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