Debate continues over medical marijuana ID cards

While Proposition 215, passed by California voters in 1996, allows
patients to possess and cultivate marijuana for medicinal use, not all
counties in the state are accepting of the discrepancy with federal law.

In a 3-2 vote last month, the Sacramento County Board of Supervisors
rejected a medical marijuana identification card program, mandated by
Senate Bill 420 in 2003 to address vague provisions of the initial law.

The county is one of 18 in the state that has not yet adopted the state
program. Advocates say the ID cards help all parties involved by
identifying patients who have a legal right to possess medical
marijuana based on a physician’s recommendation.

“What the ID card does is give a legal patient an easy way to identify
themselves, should they be questioned,” said Bruce Mirken, director of
communications for the Marijuana Policy Project. “It’s simply something
that makes life easier for both patients and police.”

While Proposition 215, passed by California voters in 1996, allows patients to possess and cultivate marijuana for medicinal use, not all counties in the state are accepting of the discrepancy with federal law.

In a 3-2 vote last month, the Sacramento County Board of Supervisors rejected a medical marijuana identification card program, mandated by Senate Bill 420 in 2003 to address vague provisions of the initial law.

The county is one of 18 in the state that has not yet adopted the state program. Advocates say the ID cards help all parties involved by identifying patients who have a legal right to possess medical marijuana based on a physician’s recommendation.

“What the ID card does is give a legal patient an easy way to identify themselves, should they be questioned,” said Bruce Mirken, director of communications for the Marijuana Policy Project. “It’s simply something that makes life easier for both patients and police.”

The three board members who struck down the proposal were largely supported by the county’s law enforcement officials, including Sheriff John McGinness and District Attorney Jan Scully.

Reasons offered against the program included the assertion that ID cards would encourage marijuana use and the fact that the behavior is still illegal by federal law.

Yolo County is one of the 38 counties that have implemented the ID card program. However, the issue was not without controversy.

“I think the program proposed at the time put sheriff’s deputies in a difficult situation,” said District Three supervisor Matt Rexroad, who voted against the ID cards. “[Marijuana use] is a violation of federal law, and I just think that is confusing for the officer.”

Rexroad added that he has not yet seen a person who has not been able to acquire marijuana without an ID card.

“That just doesn’t happen,” he said.

Advocates continue to assert that controversy surrounding the program stems from a general dislike of Prop 215.

“The problem is some people just don’t like Proposition 215 and want it to go away … and it’s absolutely disgusting,” Mirken said. “These few counties [that have not adopted the program] have essentially voted to defy state law.”

Additionally, Mirken said there is no evidence that similar programs in other locations have increased the non-medical use of marijuana.

“The reasons that have been given and echoed by the board of supervisors in Sacramento are completely phony,” he said. “They have no basis, in fact, at all.”

However, not all patients using medical marijuana are thrilled about the ID card program.

Nils Johnson, first-year anthropology major, received a physician’s recommendation for marijuana from a San Francisco clinic in December as a result of chronic sleep problems and pain stemming from appendix removal surgery.

Because initial pain medications prescribed disrupted normal bowel movements, Johnson convinced the physician that marijuana would be a more natural pain reliever. Since then, Johnson said he has received his marijuana from local delivery-based dispensaries in Yolo County.

While the recommendation allows Johnson to legally smoke marijuana in the state of California, he said that he has not acquired the ID card, which would place him in a 24-hour database available to law enforcement officials.

“[The ID card program] would be a fantastic system if it were confidential,” he said, voicing concerns over being singled out by authorities. In addition, Johnson cited cost as a barrier for many acquiring the ID card.

Still, Johnson said he sees medical marijuana programs such as these as an important step to legalization.

“I don’t think that the government has the right to regulate a plant,” he said.

 

CHINTAN DESAI can be reached at city@californiaaggie.com.