Medical marijuana ID card fee may soar

February 09, 2007

Katie Mintz, Ukiah Daily Journal

The fee for obtaining a medical marijuana identification card in Mendocino County may more than double beginning March 1, and medical marijuana advocates fear the increased fee will keep many from using the voluntary identification program.

Due to a recent statewide increase in cost, on Tuesday, the Mendocino County Board of Supervisors will consider increasing the application fee for the state Medical Marijuana ID Card program administered through the county's Public Health Branch.

Currently, in Mendocino County, the annual cost for a card is $70 -- $57 of which covers the county's cost for verifying and processing the application, and $13 of which goes to the state for maintaining the program and printing the card.

Recently, the California Department of Health Services (CDHS) announced that the state will raise its portion of the fee more than tenfold to $142, bringing the total potential cost in the county to $199.

Medi-Cal beneficiaries will continue to receive a 50 percent discount.

"The state said, effective March 1, they're going to charge us that new amount, and we can't afford to pay the state the amount without collecting it from the applicant," Mendocino County Public Health Branch Director Dan Taylor said. "What we're asking the board to do is implement an increase in the card fee that will meet the new state fee portion that's been increased by the state."

According to a letter sent by the state to all county health directors Dec. 27, the fee increase is necessary to comply with a law that requires the state's portion of the fee to cover program expenses incurred by the CDHS, such as Medical Marijuana ID Card implementation, development and support activities.

The original $13 fee -- first implemented in 2005 after the passing of SB 420, which requires CDHS to maintain a voluntary ID card program -- was based on an estimate of the number of cards the state thought would be issued vs. the cost of staff to develop the program, Taylor said.

He said he believes the state may not be getting as many applicants as once expected, and as a result, has to raise the fee per card.

Should the board choose not to increase the fee the county collects from applicants, it would have to cover the difference itself.

"We're just passing along the state increase so that the local government doesn't have to pay for it," Taylor said.

Pebbles Trippet, a coordinator for the Medical Marijuana Patients' Union and a Mendocino Medical Marijuana Advisory Board member, said the increased yearly cost, on top of the approximately $200 cost to get the required doctors' recommendation will keep many from obtaining the ID card.

"Certainly, the state doesn't understand, and we don't really think the county does either, how much this is going to cut into the success of the program," Trippet said.

She said while Prop. 215 legalizes the use of marijuana for medicinal purposes, the voluntary ID card provides a valuable level of protection for medical marijuana patients.

"It gets down to law enforcement's attitude," Trippet said.

While only a doctor's recommendation is required under Prop. 215, such a paper document can easily become tattered or illegible.

"(Law enforcement officers) don't know if that's legitimate or not, and the card proves to them that the doctor's recommendation has already been confirmed by the Public Health Department," Trippet said, explaining how the cards can serve to clear up any gray areas.

She said members of the patients' union and advisory board will attend the public hearing on the fee increase, which is scheduled to begin at 11:30 a.m. Tuesday in the Board of Supervisors Chambers in the County Administration Center, 501 Low Gap Rd., Ukiah, to ask supervisors to consider the impacts the fee increase will have on the program.

"The money is not the issue; the program is the issue," Trippet said. "If the money stands in the way of the protection of bonafide patients, something is wrong with the program."

Taylor said it is likely the board will approve the increased application fee since it would otherwise have to cover the cost, and added that the fee may see yet another increase effective July 1 should the county determine a need to increase its portion.

He said the county's $57 fee is based on the staff time it takes to process an application. A recent cost-of-living wage increase approved by the board has made staff time worth more, and may trigger a need to increase the fee.

Katie Mintz can be reached at udjkm@pacific.net.



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