Marijuana ID cards coming on Monday

December 12, 2008

Zeke Barlow, Ventura County Star

Starting Monday, medical marijuana patients in the county can apply for an identification card that shows proof they can legally use the drug.

The program, which was enacted under Senate Bill 420, is designed to alleviate confusion between police and those who are legally allowed to transport and consume the drug.

Though 41 other counties in California have enacted similar state-mandated programs, Ventura County officials wanted to see how a series of lawsuits played out before starting a program here.

San Diego and a few other counties had sued the state, claiming the medical marijuana laws put in place by voters under Proposition 215 in 1996 ran contrary to federal laws outlawing marijuana. The state Supreme Court would not hear the case, and San Diego said it will appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Ventura County Public Health Director Barry Fisher said the county wanted to wait until the suit seemed mostly settled before a program was started here.

The department put a notice on its Web site last week about the program starting and notified some of the groups that have been inquiring about the identity cards.

But Michael Meyer, the Ventura County organizer for Americans for Safe Access, said he thinks the county is keeping the program low key so as not to attract attention to it.

"I think they are trying to minimize exposure, and I understand it because even the patients are very paranoid in Ventura," said Meyer, who uses marijuana because he suffers from migraines as well as other ailments. "This is a big deal because it signals that the county is finally recognizing the law, and it will help us open up lines of communication with law enforcement."

He said Ventura County hasn't been very receptive to medical marijuana thus far.

Cities around the county, including Moorpark and Oxnard, have adopted temporary moratoriums on allowing dispensaries to open. Simi Valley enacted a permanent one.

Meyer said he's making an effort to see if Ventura may be more receptive to the idea of opening one.

How many people will take advantage of the new ID program in the county is debatable. In Los Angeles County, where there are a lot more residents and dispensaries, participation in the program has been relatively low, Fisher said.

But Meyer estimates there are 10,000 to 15,000 medical marijuana patients in Ventura County, and many of them will seek out the ID cards to avoid confusion when dealing with police.

The card costs $191 or $95.50 for Medi-Cal patients. A number of forms are needed to obtain the card, including original documentation for a prescription from a doctor as well as proof of residency in Ventura County.

To set up an appointment to get a card, call 981-5301.

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