Cops ask Santa Barbara County to nix medical marijuana ID project

March 08, 2004

Erin Carlyle , The Lompoc Record

Citing likely counterfeiting and verification problems, top local law enforcement officials say they won't recognize temporary medical marijuana identification cards as valid if Santa Barbara County issues them before a statewide program is implemented next year. The county Board of Supervisors will decide whether to sanction an interim local program today at its meeting in Santa Maria.

'We would not consider them valid,' said William Brown, Lompoc Police Chief and chairman of the Santa Barbara County Law Enforcement Chiefs association. 'I think that's pretty universal across the county.'

Although medical marijuana has been legal in California since 1996, legislation passed last year requires the state to set up a voluntary ID card program. The goal is to provide a safeguard against arrest for doctors prescribing the drug and people legitimately using it for medical reasons.

State law also requires the creation of a database and 24-hour hotline so that law enforcement personnel can determine a card's validity. The state is also responsible for issuing regulations and standardizing cards and application forms, Brown noted in a letter to the supervisors.

The supervisors have directed the county to come up with its own program, which could be ready by July 1, but Brown and others would prefer to wait until a standardized, statewide program is ready next year.

'Then there are advocates ... who are telling the board to move forward,' said Michele Mickiewicz, deputy director of county Public Health.

'I understand the position legitimate users of medical marijuana are in, and they would have to wait 6 to 9 months,' Mickiewicz said. 'I would have liked the state to move more quickly.'

'It's the state's responsibility, so let the state issue them because there are a lot of unanswered questions about the legality,' said Santa Maria Police Chief Dan Macagni. 'Why the county of Santa Barbara would take it upon themselves to issue them (before) the state is beyond me.'

Law enforcement personnel say county-issued ID cards could result in verification difficulties, as many as 58 different cards from different counties might exist.

'The consensus amongst the agencies was that in this day and age it's so easy to counterfeit these cards, and that it would be almost impossible after hours and on weekends to verify if the county card is a legitimate one,' Brown said. 'The health department doesn't have the ability to staff a 24-hour line locally.'

'Our position is rather than rush something through six or seven months early that's not going to be verifiable and workable, it would be more prudent to wait and see if the state figures out the guidelines.'

In addition, Brown noted that there are other issues that need to be ironed out. For instance, if an officer seized legitimate medical marijuana and a court ruled that it be returned to its owner, officers could be in an awkward position.

'It would still remain a federal felony for the police to transfer the marijuana to the person. That's the problem. That's the conflict.'

The Public Health Department is also asking for $13,000 from the county's general fund toward start-up costs, including a digital camera and scanner/printer machine. The ID card program will be funded through fees charged for each card, which have not yet been determined, Mickiewicz said.

However, county officials do not know how many people will want cards.



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