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Shayla Ashmore, Lassen News (CA)
The medical marijuana identification card program will be back before the Lassen County Board of Supervisors sometime after Jan. 1 due to a San Diego County Superior Court ruling that counties must follow the state’s medical-marijuana laws regardless of federal drug statutes.
The court ruled state statutes “are mandatory on the counties regardless of the fact that there’s this conflict with federal law,” County Administrative Officer John Ketelsen told the board at its Tuesday, Nov. 21 meeting.
The board took no action a year ago on the program pending the outcome of the San Diego County lawsuit, which Merced and San Bernardino counties later joined.
The counties sued stating Senate Bill 420, which implements Proposition 215, the Compassionate Use Act of 1996, directly conflicted with federal law. Prop 215 passed with 56 percent of the popular vote.
SB 420 requires each county to approve the program and set up an application process. It specifies each county must issue a medical marijuana ID card after verifying the address of any person applying for a card by checking proof of residency and a government-issued photo ID.
The patient must also pay a $65 fee and submit written documentation from a physician verifying the client suffers from a serious medical condition and that the use of medical marijuana is appropriate. The state will issue the card after the county health department screens the application and reviews it for completeness. If anything is missing the state automatically denies the application.
Once the application is entered into a computer the state will issue a card within five days. The county will notify the user when the card is available for pickup.
The ID card program has been controversial since its inception on Jan. 1, 2004. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in June 2005, that a federal ban on marijuana trumps any state laws allowing its use, including Prop 215.
To complicate things further the U.S. Supreme Court on June 6, 2005, decided the federal government may prosecute people who use homegrown marijuana. It said state medical marijuana laws don't protect users from a federal ban on the drug.
Last week, District 2 Supervisor Jim Chapman suggested the board issue the cards with a disclaimer stating they do not protect the bearers from federal prosecution.
When the board first considered the ID program in December 2005, Sheriff Steve Warren told the board. “I think that for someone to be able to drive around in a car with eight ounces of marijuana and a card that says it’s OK is not a good thing.”
Warren said possession of marijuana “clearly is against federal law and not too long ago it was against state law.”
Warren said California’s Attorney General issued an opinion saying the Supreme Court didn’t say anything about forcing local and state officials to enforce federal law. The attorney general concluded local and state officials should not enforce federal marijuana laws.
Warren said the voluntary ID card program simply gives medical marijuana users something to show law enforcement saying the bearer is entitled to carry eight ounces of marijuana.
“There’s absolutely no mechanism in place to see how legal that is,” Warren said.
At the same meeting, Public Health Nurse Mary O’Reilly, who presented the ID card program, said there will be a number on the card law enforcement can call to verify its authenticity.
“I will not support something illegal under federal law,” Pyle said last year, adding he is against the whole program and won’t vote for it. “I will not be supporting the use of marijuana.”
O’Reilly said the card program in no way supports marijuana use. She said physicians do not prescribe marijuana because it is not recognized as legal by the federal government. Prop 215 allows doctors to give patients a recommendation for the use of marijuana for medical purposes.
“Federal law criminalizes the use of medical marijuana,” according to the frequently asked questions section of the material O’Reilly gave the board.
She said the state wants the board to recognize the card program is state-mandated and will be occurring in Lassen County.
Ketelsen said he would ask the San Diego County Superior Court for a copy of the unpublished decision. San Diego Superior Court Judge William R. Nevitt, Jr has 90 days to issue the decision following the tentative ruling issued on Thursday, Nov. 16.
The board agreed to schedule a more in-depth discussion of the ruling after the first of the year.
“Let’s keep informed and put it on the agenda,” Pyle said.