Medical pot fee could nearly double

March 23, 2007

Rob Rogers, Marin Independent Journal

The fee for Marin County medical marijuana identification cards could nearly double next month.

The change, driven by a statewide price hike, would raise the cost of the cards from $30 to $56.50 for Medi-Cal beneficiaries and from $60 to $113 for all other users, effective April 1. County supervisors will consider the boost on Tuesday.

"I'm in support of the card program, and I do support the increase," said the Rev. Lynnette Shaw, director of the Marin Alliance for Medical Marijuana. "The card program is superior, at any price, to people being busted by the police, as people were in the past."

Shaw's Fairfax marijuana clinic, which reported receipts of roughly $1 million several years ago, is the only such clinic in Marin.

California's Proposition 215, passed in 1996, allows physicians to prescribe marijuana as medicine. The voluntary card program, established by state Senate Bill 420 in 2003, enables patients to identify themselves if stopped by police.

"The program is of great assistance to law enforcement officers, because they can differentiate between those who possess marijuana under the auspices of Proposition 215, and those who do not," said state Assemblyman Mark Leno, a co-author of Senate Bill 420. "It's also good for physicians, because everything is done in confidence. They can prescribe without being at risk if federal agents choose to dig up our records."

Only 25 of California's 58 counties participate in the voluntary identification card program, which includes 10,979 registered users. Marin, with 1,280 card holders, is second only to San Francisco in participation in the program.

By law, the program must be paid for through annual card fees.

Because the program attracted fewer users than expected, the state Department of Health Services announced in December that it would raise its share of the identification card fee from $13 to $142 for non Medi-Cal users.

"The fees collected from issuing the cards weren't sufficient to keep up with the needs of the program, and so the price increase was requested," said Lea Brooks, a spokesperson for the California Department of Health Services.

Had that increase occurred, Leno and others feared the cost would discourage patients from signing up. "Our concern was that this would be the death knell for the program," Leno said.

"We brought the stakeholders together with the Department of Health Services," Leno said. "They agreed to increase the fee, but not by that much."

In February, the state agreed to change the fee increase from $142 to $66. That fee, together with Marin County charges, brings the total cost to $113 for Marin users.

SUPERVISORS TO VOTE

Marin supervisors will vote on increasing fees for medical marijuana cards at 10 a.m. Tuesday at the Civic Center in San Rafael. For more information, call the county Department of Health and Human Services at 499-6924.

Contact Rob Rogers via e-mail at rrogers@marinij.com



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