Medical marijuana cards OK'd

March 14, 2007

John Holland, Modesto Bee

SONORA — Medical marijuana users in Tuolumne County soon can get identification cards under a plan narrowly approved Tuesday by the Board of Supervisors.

The board voted 3-2 to carry out a 2003 state law requiring counties to offer the cards. They will be available to people whose physicians recommend marijuana under Proposition 215, passed by California voters in 1996.

Patients could show the cards to police officers to prove they are entitled to possess small amounts of marijuana.

"What this does is ensure that patients will not be arrested," said Aaron Smith, state coordinator for Safe Access Now, a Santa Rosa-based group that supports medical marijuana.

Supervisors Liz Bass, Paolo Maffei and Teri Murrison voted in favor of issuing the cards. Dick Pland and Mark Thornton dissented.

With Tuesday's vote, 31 of the state's 58 counties have adopted plans for issuing the cards, Smith said.

Merced County did so in December, soon after it and two Southern California counties lost a court challenge to the 2003 law. Stanislaus and San Joaquin counties have not acted.

Supporters of medical marijuana say it can help relieve the pain of cancer, AIDS and several other ailments. But some officials have been leery of issuing the cards because federal law bars all uses of the drug.

Thornton said Tuesday that he opposes the cards, in part because they could be an invasion of patients' privacy and, in part, because he is not convinced of marijuana's medical value. If it does contain beneficial sub-stances, he said, they can be extracted rather than smoked.

The Tuolumne County Public Health Department plans to start issuing the cards May 1, said Dr. Todd Stolp, county health officer.

The cards will be good for one year at a time. The $126 fee will be halved for low-income patients who are on Medi-Cal or in the County Medical Service Program.

The card system could ease growing marijuana mainly for personal use, as many California cities have moved to block dispensaries that sell the drug.

For more information on Tuolumne County's ID card plan, call 533-7400. To comment, click on the link with this story at www.modbee.com. Bee staff writer John Holland can be reached at jholland@modbee.com or 578-2385.



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