Pot program to be put in place

March 13, 2007

Alisha Wyman, Union Democrat (CA)

An identification card system for Tuolumne County medical marijuana patients will soon be in place.

The Board of Supervisors voted 3-2 to approve the program, with Supervisors Mark Thornton and Dick Pland dissenting.

In 1996, California voters approved the "Compassionate Use Act," which allows doctors to prescribe marijuana for medical use. A later bill was enacted to clarify the act and requires counties to set up programs for card issuance.

The Tuolumne County Narcotics Task Force, local law enforcement, county counsel, the district attorney and the county Health Department participated in drafting Tuolumne County's version.

The program sets up the process for issuing cards, the costs, and denial and appeal processes. It's a volunteer program through which participants would receive a card validating their right to legal marijuana.

Opinions on the program's validity varied, even among medical marijuana advocates.

Christopher DeMars, who along with his father has been a vocal backer of medical marijuana, raised concerns about the card program. He fears holding a card could amount to self-incrimination.

The only group that supports such programs are marijuana dispensaries, he said, which don't want to follow normal pharmacy procedures.

"They want to act like a convenience store," DeMars said. "You slap your ID on the table, they'll slap you as much booze and cigs as you like."

But medicinal marijuana patient Royal Garrison IV said the program will help him avoid going to a doctor in Modesto in order to get needed documentation.

"I don't see why I have to drive 63 miles, when I could go right over to the Public Health Department," he said.

It will also make it easier for law enforcement in the field to distinguish authentic patients from recreational users, Garrison said.

Now, officers rely on printed recommendations from doctors or cards from cannabis buyer's clubs in other areas.

Kim Cue, a medical marijuana patient and a patient advocate from Calaveras County, urged the board to adopt the program for legal reasons.

Feelings about the drug's medicinal use shouldn't be a factor in the board's decision, she said.

"The time of changing that law is already past," she said. "We are at the phase of implementing this."

Supervisor Liz Bass agreed and colleague Teri Murrison seconded her comments: "This issue is not about how I feel about marijuana," Murrison said. "This issue is about if the county is going to be in compliance with the law."

Supervisor Paolo Maffei voted for the program, but asked for a provision that would require the destruction of the documents after patients apply, to protect them from federal prosecution. But the board declined to act on his recommendation.

Pland and Thornton opposed it for differing reasons.

Thornton worried about patients' privacy and disapproved of making them register for a medication. He also objected to marijuana's use for medical purposes.

A program is simply not needed, Pland said.

"They already got their right to use marijuana, and I don't see it adds anything, except expense to the county," he said.

Contact Alisha Wyman at awyman@uniondemocrat.com or 588-4529.

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