Medical marijuana card decision delayed in Santa Barbara

March 09, 2004

Erin Carlyle , The Lompoc Record

In a continuing debate about temporary identification cards for medical marijuana users, it is unclear whether cops or advocates will win -- or whether some kind of compromise can be reached. The Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors asked law enforcement and public health officials Tuesday to continue meeting to determine if it's possible to set up a program that makes sense for cops on the street. An update will be provided to the board April 13.

Medical marijuana has been legal in California since 1996, but a state law passed last year requires counties to set up an identification card program. Enrollment in the program would be optional, but the goal is to protect legitimate users of medical marijuana, and the doctors who prescribe it, from arrest.

A statewide system of protocols and application forms for the ID cards, as well as a 24-hour verification line for law enforcement, is supposed to be in place by January, although some county officials say that may not happen because of the state's financial problems.

The supervisors had directed the county's Public Health Department to come up with a temporary program sooner.

But Lompoc Police Chief William Brown, chairman of the Santa Barbara County Law Enforcement Chiefs organization, said police officials would prefer to wait for the statewide system.

A lack of a hotline, coupled with as many as 58 different card types across the state, could lead to verification difficulty, Brown said. He has said that law enforcement would not recognize the county cards as valid.

Longtime Santa Barbara medical marijuana advocate Bruce Rittenhouse said the county should look to the jurisdictions -- 17 counties and eight cities -- that have already implemented such a program.

The debate was echoed in comments from 2nd District Supervisor Susan Rose, who called the problems to implementing a local program 'technical' roadblocks that can be overcome, and 5th District Supervisor Joe Centeno, Santa Maria's former police chief, who said the system needed to be available to line officers.

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