County prepares to dole out medi-pot cards to patients

By: Gus Thomson, Journal Staff Writer
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Placer County plans to roll its medical marijuana identification-card program out March 1. But it's still uncertain whether the state-overseen and state-authorized program ““ which remains voluntary for marijuana-medicating patients under the 11-year-old Proposition 214 Compassionate Use Act ““ will take hold. Neighboring El Dorado County established its own ID program under state guidelines in mid-August and has issued 13 cards. Statewide, the three-year-old program has issued 18,847 cards in 36 counties. While the legal battle pitting the federal government against the voter-approved Prop. 214 continues to play out in the courts, adoption of the ID program in Placer County came last month with no discussion by the Board of Supervisors as it considered the proposal as part of a larger package of fees. A state Senate bill adopted five years ago approved the ID card system. Mark Starr, Department of Health and Human Services director of community health clinics, said Thursday that a cost analysis by the county established the annual fee for a card at $125, with the state taking $66 as its share. MediCal patients will pay $62.50. The state Office of County Health Services has estimated Placer County could issue as many as 250 identification cards to patients who have a doctor's recommendation allowing them to cultivate, transport and use marijuana under Prop. 214 guidelines. In most counties, the number issued has been less than state estimates, Starr said. Aaron Smith, California organizer for the Washington, D.C.-based Marijuana Policy Project, said that some of the estimates he has seen suggest that California has 300,000 medical marijuana patients eligible for the cards. The cards provide law enforcement agencies with a new, computer-based way to verify whether a drug-possession suspect can possess marijuana under Prop. 214 guidelines. There is no name or address on the card. But there is a photo and a serial number. It's valid in all counties and that helps while someone is traveling, Smith said. While law enforcement may be understanding in one county, in others they are sadly looking for an excuse to arrest somebody. San Bernardino and San Diego counties, for example, have been seeking a court ruling to overturn Prop. 215, Smith said. In Placer County, Sheriff's Lt. Jeff Ausnow said that officers are basing decisions on the amount of marijuana a medical cannabis users can possess on Prop. 215 criteria. The proposition allows 12 immature plants, six mature plants or eight ounces of processed marijuana, he said. Ausnow said any amounts that exceed those guidelines would be seized. If someone has 15 ounces of processed marijuana and produces a card, we're going to take everything over and above eight ounces, he said. It's a state law and we have to abide by it regardless of our own opinions. Cards in Placer County will be issued by the state and processed at North Auburn's Vital Statistics Office, 11484 B Ave. Appointments will be necessary because the processing will take place one or two days a week. Card applicants would be required to show identification, the doctor's recommendation and have a photo taken. The information would be submitted to the state and the card would come back within about 30 days. Starr said county staff will not be offering advice on where people can go to obtain recommendations or medical marijuana. Information is available on the Internet for cooperatives where medical marijuana is being offered, including a Colfax location. The Journal contacted the Golden State Patient Care Collective in Colfax by phone and was told by a staff member that dispensary employees do not make comments to the media. Smith said he thinks the lack of enthusiasm among medical marijuana patients could be linked partly to the cost of a card “ which is more than the standard $100 fine for misdemeanor possession of marijuana. And counties are doing nothing to promote the program, Smith added. Our hope is that the state will start promoting the program in places like AIDS clinics. Smith said he didn't think the ID program would result in creating more medical marijuana patients. But it would make them feel more comfortable when they are driving back from a dispensary, he said. It's something law enforcement can verify when doctor recommendations all look different. The Journal's Gus Thomson can be reached at , or post a comment at .