State must follow voters wishes on medical marijuana

March 13, 2007

EDITORIAL, The Argus (CA)

You would have thought the state Department of Health Services was out to kill the medical marijuana identification card program. The department planned to increase the cost of the cards tenfold before wiser minds prevailed and the hike was cut in half.

The episode, however, makes us wonder if health services officials are serious about implementing Proposition 215. California voters approved medical marijuana more than 10 years ago. State officials should work to make sure the will of the voters is realized.

In December, Health Services proposed to increase the fee for the identification cards from $13 to $142. The cards are available to patients authorized by physicians to use marijuana for medical purposes, indicating their purchase, use and possession of marijuana is legal under state law.

Supposedly, officials did not consider that the cost might be a deterrent for patients. They were only thinking about covering the cost of the identification program. Have they ever heard of the word consumer?

Even before the proposed huge fee increase, the identification card program has been less than a success. A flop is a more accurate description.

Thirty-four of the states 58 counties have not joined the program because of concerns about how the state is running it. San Francisco and others have threatened to disregard the state program and issue their own cards. While an estimated 100,000 Californians were expected to sign up for the cards, only 9,500 had done so by early February.

The big fee hike would have been the death knell for the program, according to Democratic Assemblyman Mark Leno of San Francisco.

It makes you wonder if that was the intent. Were Health Services officials attempting to undermine the state program because of the conflict with federal law that does not permit medical marijuana?

As it is, the lower fee still represents a fivefold increase, from $13 to $66 and up to $33 for Medi-Cal patients. Medical marijuana advocates seem happy with the lower increase.

Now, Health Services officials need to get serious about implementing a plan that facilitates the distribution of medical marijuana. Thats what the states voters approved more than a decade ago.



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