Two Lompocans carry the card

August 04, 2004

Mark Baylis, Lompoc Record

In the first month of availability, Santa Barbara County's Public Health Department has issued 14 Medical Marijuana Identification Cards, including two to Lompoc residents. The cards became available July 1 through the health department via Senate Bill 420, which permits a voluntary identity card program by which patients and caregivers can show law enforcement officers that they are within their legal rights to possess marijuana.

So far, 12 cards have been issued to Santa Barbara residents and two to Lompoc residents. Two applications are pending - one from Santa Maria and another from Santa Barbara. The county anticipates 500 applications over the course of a year.

Santa Barbara is one of eight local governments in California that are printing ID cards. Next year, the state will produce a uniform card to replace all county and city cards. That program is anticipated to start in April.

Lompoc resident Jack Martin, 51, received his ID card Monday. Martin is a former construction worker who is currently on disability with chronic back pain that was exacerbated by a 1986 surgery to fuse two discs. Martin takes morphine for the pain, but says the drug kills his appetite, which he uses marijuana to counteract. Marijuana is widely known to induce hunger.

'I take a light dose of morphine every day,' Martin said. 'I can go a long time without eating, but when I smoke I could eat until I get sick.'

Health department officials worked closely with the county Law Enforcement Chief's Association, an inter-agency commission headed by Lompoc Police Chief William Brown, to ensure that the card program met all the parties' concerns. Brown was initially among the most vocal critics of the identity card program, but the Lompoc Police Department now says it will honor the cards.

'If they don't have a card, we'll enforce the possession laws,' said Sgt. Michael Collins. 'If they do have a card, we'll enforce the law that says they can have their marijuana.'

Collins said that no local officers had come into contact with the ID card yet, but that they are concerned with forgery.

'No matter what kind of card you have, they can be forged,' Collins said.

The card, which is good for one year, includes a photo, lists the person's physical characteristics, date of birth, and expiration date. There are no holograms or other devices that hamper forgery, except for a randomly selected six-digit number, which officials say is the key to avoiding forgery.

Police officers who are presented with the card call dispatch, who check the numbers on a database. The database does not include the card owner's medical information, said Susan Forkush, executive director at the health department.

The cards are only guaranteed to protect against arrest within the issuing county. Individual county police may not recognize cards from other counties, Forkush said.

Another vague area is where patients can purchase marijuana.

'The use and cards are established, but the big open-ended question is who distributes and how,' said Deputy Chief Rich Glaus, Santa Barbara Police Department. 'Its a gray area.'

Cannabis clubs have historically been the sole means of distribution, however they also tend to disappear quickly under pressure from local authorities. Standard pharmacies won't touch the medicine, and even county agencies that distribute cards have no clue exactly where card-holders can purchase marijuana. There are no known clubs operating in Santa Barbara County.

Many card holders purchase seeds or plant clones from a club and grow their own supply. Under county restrictions they are allowed six mature plants or 12 immature plants.

Martin has six mature plants, but also makes twice-annual trips to cannabis clubs in Los Angeles or the Bay area, where he also possesses cards. The marijuana is expensive, however, and not covered by health insurance companies, which regard the use of the plant as experimental.

Martin spends from $500 to $600 at the cannabis clubs for a six-month supply. Costs vary according to variety of plant (which fluctuate in potency), though 3.5 grams of standard varieties cost $55. Clubs also sell other items with marijuana as an ingredient, including candy bars like 'Score' and 'Reefer Peanut Butter Cups.' Score costs $8 a bar.

The identity card program is fully funded by user fees. Patient and caregiver cards cost $64 and Medi-Cal applicants pay $32. The program's startup costs total $12,200. Ongoing costs will be evaluated after six months, Forkush said.

Applicants must provide a valid state or federal photo ID card, a completed original physician statement, and proof of county residence.

Staff writer Mark Baylis can be reached at 736-2313, Ext. 105 or by e-mail at mbaylis@pulitzer.net.



Be the first to Comment

Please check your e-mail for a link to activate your account.