OC To Draft Policy On ID Cards For Medical Marijuana Users

April 16, 2007

, KNBC TV-4 (Los Angeles)

Orange County supervisors ordered staffers Tuesday to draft a policy on issuing identification cards to medical marijuana users and return to the board in 90 days.

The motion ultimately was passed 4-1, with Supervisor Janet Nguyen opposed. But it almost failed for lack of support until its author, board Chair Chris Norby, added requirements that additional information be included for the board's consideration.

The supervisors will receive information on the experiences of other law enforcement and health agencies in counties that have adopted the ID system under SB 420, which became law in 2004 and mandates a system of voluntary identification cards and requires health departments to set up procedures to screen and approve applicants.

 The board also wants an update on litigation involving San Diego County, which challenged the law on the grounds that the state's position on medical marijuana use conflicts with federal law.

Last December, a federal judge dismissed the suit on the grounds of minimal chances of success, but it is now under appeal.A decision on the appeal could take awhile, County Counsel Ben de Mayo said."My best guess it will be spring or summer next year," he said.

Supervisor Patricia Bates worried that cities in Orange County might interpret a county law on ID cards as an attempt to preempt the ability of municipalities to regular medical marijuana dispensaries, many of which have declared moratoriums on them.

Norby addressed that concern by requesting input from Orange County police agencies and assuring cities that "any ordinance we pass has absolutely nothing to do with their land use ability to regulate dispensaries.

"More than 20 people addressed the board, many citing illness and relief from pain as the reasons they use marijuana.In stating her opposition to the ID card system, Nguyen said the law is clear."

All medical marijuana is subject to prosecution," she said. "Federal law is controlling.

"She noted that both her parents suffered from cancer, with her mother undergoing eight years of chemotherapy and her father dying last year from the disease.

Nguyen said county staff should not have to go through creating a system only to see it struck down on appeal. Monitoring the issue and waiting for a decision, she said, would be "prudent."

Sheriff Mike Carona did not appear at the board meeting to address the issue -- an absence, Norby said, that shows he has no strong feelings on the issue.

Assistant Sheriff Steve Bishop said issuing medical ID cards to people with prescriptions will do little to change how law enforcement handles the issue.

Now, he said, deputies take a doctor's note from a user, seize the individual's marijuana and write up a "face sheet" or issue a citation if they feel the note may be a forgery.

The note and marijuana is presented to the district attorney to determine if it is valid, he said.With the card, Bishop said, "it's still the same. We will seize the marijuana. It's still a federal violation.

"District Attorney Tony Rackauckas said he opposes an ID system.Giving out an identification card will only encourage people "to go over to the Health Care Agency and get one ... It's going to increase the demand for marijuana in this county, and where does it come from?" Rackauckas asked, describing marijuana dealers as "hardened criminals."

"Are we going to be supporting drug cartels by increasing the demand for marijuana?" he asked. "It's kind of a free-for-all thing."

Rackauckas said his agency follows state law on the issue."If somebody has a note, we consider that note a complete defense," he said.

Attorney William Paoli, who represents a medical marijuana patient and threatened to sue if the board did not adopt an ID system, said his client "will explore his legal remedies" if the board returns in 90 days and does not implement the system.

But rather than sue, he said, "our goal is to have a program put in place."Norby emphasized that his motion merely directs staff to come up with a policy, and "then it's up to the board whether to implement it.

"He said he is likely "to vote for it at that time.""I don't think the conflict is that clear" between state and federal law, Norby said, adding that the issue is vague about possession and personal use. "I think we have legal grounds here. This is one where we need to take a leadership role."

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