Medical marijuana permit process approved

February 28, 2007

Heather Hacking, Chico Enterprise-Record

Procedures for issuing identification cards for people with prescriptions for medical marijuana got the nod Tuesday at the Board of Supervisors meeting. Voters approved Proposition 215 in 1996, which allows use of marijuana for people with certain illnesses, such as cancer.

Butte County Sheriff Perry Reniff told the board he supported issuing the identification cards because it helps law enforcement by not requiring confiscation of marijuana grown and possessed by people who have a doctor's recommendation for it.

Without standardized identification cards, law enforcement spends time figuring out if a document is a forgery or dealing with a patient who ends up not needing to be prosecuted for illegal drug use.

"Law enforcement is not trained in medicine," Reniff told the supervisors Tuesday.

By issuing the medical marijuana IDs, law enforcement can shift the burden to the public health system.

He said his office spends hundreds of hours a year investigating whether people have gone through the legal steps to use marijuana for illnesses. It takes considerable time for his staff to sort through the particulars, Reniff explained.

Supervisor Kim Yamaguchi said there are other complications, such as a "criminal element" learning a person has medical marijuana and then stepping in and stealing it.

Reniff said the sheriff's department views theft of medicinal marijuana the same as any other crime.

Complicating the issue is that federal law differs from the voter-passed laws in California, and once marijuana is seized, federal law does not allow it to be returned to the ill person.

Reniff's chief assistant, Francisco Zarato said there are thousands of patients in the county. The law states that the person with the doctor's recommendation or their primary caregiver can possess the "medicine." But it's tricky being a caregiver because there are certain rules that must be abided by.

One man testified at the meeting Tuesday, saying he had been caring for a man with epilepsy and cancer. The ordeal ended up costing him thousands of dollars for an attorney.

He said he was dealing with a serious hassle because "you guys didn't get it together," meaning the county should have adopted an identification program previously.

Supervisor Bill Connelly said he has "disdain" for medical marijuana, feeling there are other medical treatments that would be similar. But he was inclined to vote for the identification program to relieve hassles for law enforcement, freeing up officers' time for other duties.

Supervisor Curt Josiassen said he felt about the vote on medical marijuana similar to when the supervisors were asked to vote on a "nudie bar."

This drew the ire of the one of the medical marijuana supporters, who shouted from the back of the room.

The vote was 3-2, with Josiassen and Yamaguchi voting against the item.



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