Marijuana cards to see huge fee increase

February 27, 2007

Sarah Villicana, Porterville Recorder (CA)

VISALIA - Fewer county residents are likely to seek medical marijuana identification cards after March 1 when the cost jumps from $100 to $344.

The increase is linked to the state Department of Health Services' demand for $142 for each card - more than 10 times the current fee.

Currently the state gets $13 from each card issued with the remainder of the fee charged by the county to cover staff salary and office expenses.

The Board of Supervisors voted to approve the fee increase after a public hearing at Tuesday's regular meeting.

In 1996, California voters approved the Compassionate Use Act, authorizing marijuana for medical use by patients who obtain a recommendation from their physician. Passage of Senate Bill 420 in 2004 established a voluntary identification card program to be administered through the state and county departments of Health and Human Services.

Karen Elliott, administrative specialist with Tulare County Health and Human Services, said since the implementation of the program locally on July 1, 2006 only 17 cards have been issued.

“The original thought was that we would issue 300 cards annually,” Elliott said.

State health officials had predicted 150,000 cards would be issued annually and set fees at $13 a card to cover the costs of the program. Medi-Cal patients paid half price. Eighteen months later, however, the state has issued only 9,500 cards, leaving it far short of its revenue projections.

Elliott said all of the 24 counties that have medical marijuana card programs have reported a lower rate of card issuance than originally anticipated by county and state officials.

“There are no other revenues received for this program,” Elliott said.

The ID card program is voluntary. The county's new fee of $344 is based upon a participation rate of 25 residents.

Patients who are eligible for Medi-Cal can have 50 percent of the fee waived.

Rick Morse, president of the Tulare County chapter of Americans for Safe Access, said cost is a huge issue for patients who are prescribed marijuana.

“Patients are dealing with being on disability and trying to maintain their medications,” Morse said. “There is no way I could recommend to somebody on a fixed income to get a card.”

Morse said the price of one ounce of medical marijuana by itself usually runs between $325 and $350.

Tulare County's marijuana ID program is pricier than many other county programs in the state.

San Joaquin County patients will be charged around $200 for a card, enough to cover the state's new fee and the county's program costs. In San Mateo County, the Board of Supervisors voted to raise card fees to $174, a $129 increase.

Possibly the most compassionate government leaders can be found on the Calaveras County Board of Supervisors, who voted to absorb the state increase on a temporary basis, according to a story published in the Union Democrat. The board voted to maintain the program cost at $45 in spite of a staff recommendation to increase the fee to $165.

Contact Sarah Villicana at 784-5000, Ext. 1045, or svillicana@portervillerecorder.com.



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