More delay for California medical pot ID cards

April 11, 2004

Dave Downey, North County Times, San Diego

Those who smoke pot to relieve suffering have been waiting since the start of the year for identification cards a new state law says they are entitled to. They will have to continue waiting.

Although the law took effect Jan. 1, the state Department of Health Services has yet to devise rules for the cards' issuance because of a funding shortage brought on by the chronic California budget crisis.

A report being delivered to the Riverside County Board of Supervisors today suggests that the county wait on the state for guidelines before striking out on its own with a temporary medical marijuana program.

A few counties, such as San Francisco, have started their own programs, said Dr. Susan Mackintosh, assistant public health officer for Riverside County and author of the report. The majority of counties have chosen to wait for the state to lay out rules.

'We are anxious to get direction on this so that we can know best how to serve the public when the time comes to roll this program out,' Mackintosh said.

Lea Brooks, spokeswoman for the Department of Health Services in Sacramento, said it is unclear how much longer medical marijuana users will have to wait for cards.

'The administration is reviewing options for implementation of this statute,' Brooks said.

The statute has its origin in Proposition 215, the Compassionate Use Act, which was passed by California voters in 1996. The idea was to permit Californians who suffer from chronic diseases, including AIDS, cancer, arthritis and spinal injuries to legally use marijuana to relieve their pain.

But there was a problem: There was no way to distinguish illegal users from those using marijuana for medicinal purposes.

Sen. John Vasconcellos, D-San Jose, sought to remedy that problem last year through Senate Bill 420, which called for an identification card system to identify those authorized to use pot.

Users were to apply for cards from individual counties. Mackintosh said so far nine Riverside County residents have applied.

Martin Victor, 51, of Temecula, who has been diagnosed with optical edema or swelling of the optic nerve, is one of them. He said Monday he is disappointed that the county is waiting on the state; he wishes Riverside County would adopt its own program.

'It would stop so many problems,' Victor said, saying he and other medicinal users fear harassment by police.

However, Ingrid Wyatt, spokeswoman for District Attorney Grover Trask, said there is no reason for medicinal marijuana users to fret.

'If they have the prescription, it's still OK,' she said.

Wyatt said the key is whether users are living within the guidelines of the law, which allows patients to cultivate a half-dozen marijuana plants. In other words, she said, if they are growing more than the law allows, that is going to be a problem even with a card.

David Herrick, 55, of Temecula, also applied for a card.

Citing the budget crisis and high cost of fighting Southern California's wildfires last fall, Herrick said, 'We all know why we are in this position, but we have a law. And that law mandates that we get some sort of identification issued by the state through the county. What it means is, I have to count on my (doctor's) recommendation to get the police to leave me alone.'

Herrick is a former San Bernardino County sheriff's deputy who suffered spinal injuries when run over and crushed by a patrol car years ago. He said he uses marijuana to ease his suffering.

'We're coming into May,' he said. 'This law was passed Jan. 1. It's been (nearly) 105 days and we still don't have an ID card.'



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