420 Magazine Background

County approves health agency as medical marijuana ID card resource

Jim Finnel

Fallen Cannabis Warrior & Ex News Moderator
QUINCY, California (STPNS) --
Plumas County has joined a number of counties in California that now issue medical marijuana identification cards.

In Plumas County's case, it's taken three years to make the program possible.

Plumas County Public Health Agency Director Henry Foley appeared before the Board of Supervisors Jan. 23 to update the supervisors on the ID card program.

Foley also requested and received approval as the county's designated service agency to manage distribution of medical marijuana cards to those who qualify.

Along with Foley's presentation to the board, he supplied background information on Proposition 215, the medical marijuana bill approved overwhelmingly by California voters in 1996.

Also known as the Compassionate Use Act, Proposition 215 made it legal for seriously ill residents to use marijuana if recommended by a physician in California.

Although the initial proposition allowed for seriously ill people to use marijuana, it did not provide a way for law enforcement to correctly identify those persons from those illegally using the drug.

To help solve this problem and others associated with the 1996 proposition, Senate Bill 420 was passed by the legislature in 2004.

SB420 required the Department of Health Services to set up a statewide medical marijuana identification program. This program would encourage medical marijuana users to register and obtain cards.

"We applaud the board for taking up this important issue and are hopeful that Plumas County's elected officials will do the right thing and vote to protect local patients," said Aaron Smith of Safe Access Now.

"Not only will approving this important program move the county into compliance with state law, it will also be of great benefit to both patients and local law enforcement personnel," Smith added.

Safe Access is based in Santa Rosa. Smith is an ID card coordinator. The program is a statewide advocacy group promoting the ID program.

According to Smith, 24 counties - now including Plumas - are issuing cards, and others are in the process of starting the program. Lassen County is one of the counties expected to discuss implementing the program in upcoming weeks, he added.

The ID card program works to provide further protection from unnecessary detainment, arrest or seizure of medical marijuana from qualified patients, Smith explained.

In addition, the program benefits local law enforcement because it removes the burden of verifying patient documentation from officers on the street, freeing up their valuable time serving the community, Smith said.

It is taking some counties, including Plumas, time to implement the state-mandated program. Some counties have stalled in the process, Smith said.

San Diego County challenged the legality of requiring counties to implement the ID card program. One year ago, it filed a lawsuit questioning California's authority to make counties participate in the program. In December 2006, Superior Court Judge William R. Nevitt Jr. rejected San Diego County's suit, Smith explained.

In his background report to the board, Foley also pointed out that both San Diego and San Bernardino counties challenged the legality of the medical marijuana laws. Federal courts denied their positions.

"Consequently, it is now time for Plumas County to implement the Medical Marijuana Identification Card Program," Foley said in his report.

Further explaining the program, Foley said that it allows qualified patients to apply for and receive identification cards for themselves and their primary caregiver through their county of residence. Patient participation is voluntary. Provisions of SB 420 apply equally to patients and designated caregivers, whether or not they possess the card, Foley explained.

Caregivers, as mentioned, are strictly outlined in SB420. Under the terms, they can help purchase medical marijuana and help grow it for patients who need assistance. In Plumas County, as with many counties in the state, a medical marijuana patient may possess up to 12 immature plants and up to six mature plants.

There are also legal guidelines for the amount of processed marijuana that a patient may have at any one time.

Under the law, counties may allow patients to possess more processed marijuana or raise more plants, but counties cannot go below the amount mandated by law.

To acquire a new ID card, Foley said, there is an application fee of $184 per card. The public health agency retains $42 of that, and the remainder is forwarded to the state beginning March 1.

Under the program, counties are not meant to incur additional costs in implementing the program.

If the applicant is a MediCal beneficiary, the fee is reduced to $113, with $71 sent to the state. Plumas County does not lower its fee.

Plumas County residents are not required to obtain their recommendation from a Plumas physician, Smith explained. The physician may reside anywhere in the state, but must be fully licensed.

There are several reasons why patients might seek marijuana as a medical means to relieve their illnesses. Many of the illnesses or conditions are outlined in the proposition and the senate bill.

It is believed there are no physicians in Plumas County who actively recommend the use of medical marijuana.

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