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Medical Pot ID Program Falters


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Low Participation Drives Up Cost, so Fewer Want Card.

A lack of participation in a statewide medical marijuana identification card program is driving up the cost of those cards for patients across California - including those in Tulare County.

The ID program - approved by lawmakers in October 2003 - is intended to protect medical marijuana patients and caregivers from arrest. The program is voluntary. Cards must be renewed annually.

Annual fees vary by county and include a $13 fee assessed by the California Department of Health Services, which distributes the cards. State health officials notified counties in December that the state fee will increase to $142 starting March 1.

In Tulare County - only the second Valley county, after Kern, to implement the program - health officials are proposing to increase the card fee from $100 to $344. Medi-Cal patients can have 50% of the fee waived. That proposal will go before the Board of Supervisors on Feb. 27.

Michelle Mussuto, spokeswoman for the state Department of Health, said the fee increase is needed to keep the program self-sustaining. Lawmakers did not appropriate money when the program was approved.

"We're increasing the fees just to keep the program alive," Mussuto said.

Nancy Loliva, Tulare County Health and Human Services spokeswoman, said the county fee is increasing because demand for the cards has not kept up with the cost of operating the program.

Since the county rolled out the program July 1, only 15 cards have been issued, Loliva said. County officials had expected to process 300 cards each year.

Lower-than-expected demand has also been seen on the state level. Statewide, 9,074 cards have been issued since August 2005, Mussuto said. That's far below the 150,000 cards state officials expected to issue each year.

Mussuto points to two explanations for the lower-than-anticipated participation numbers. One, the ID card program is voluntary so many patients know they are protected under state law regardless of whether they have a card.

Two, while the state mandated counties to implement the identification program, a deadline was not set. Of California's 58 counties, only 24 have set up programs, Mussuto said.

Under the identification program, counties compile information from patients, including a photo, and submit it to the state Department of Health Services. The department distributes the ID cards and maintains an Internet database that police can access to confirm status as a legitimate medical marijuana user.

The IDs are a result of Proposition 215, the Compassionate Use Act, approved by California voters in November 1996. The law allows patients or their caregivers to possess or cultivate marijuana for medical purposes if they have a doctor's written recommendation.

Marijuana use, even as medication, remains illegal under federal law.

Aaron Smith, California coordinator with Safe Access Now, said medical marijuana advocates are trying to delay the fee increase for a year or negotiate a smaller fee. He called the increase a "counterproductive move" that will lead to fewer patients applying for the card.

"If they want the program to succeed, there has to be a reasonable cost," he said.

Mussuto said fees could drop if more patients sign up for cards or more counties implement the program.

Fresno County health officials have requested bids from outside organizations that could process ID applications, said David Luchini, division manager of Fresno County's Department of Communicable Disease. Based on the offers, the Board of Supervisors will determine whether the health department or an outside agency should oversee it.

Luchini said county health officials were looking at charging between $80 and $90 for the cards before the state's increase. Officials are looking into whether the state increase will affect the bids outside agencies have offered.

"We're still moving forward," he said.

Merced County Health Director John Volanti said he will ask the Board of Supervisors to hold a public hearing on the ID program March 27. The county is looking to start the program in May.

Officials in Kings and Madera counties are waiting on legal challenges to the act and program.

Author: Sarah Jimenez
Contact: sjimenez@fresnobee.com
Copyright: RedOrbit 2005
Website: Science News, Space News, Health News, & More


New Member
wow, so they thought they would have a better turn out.... Ya know i don't live there. I would have a card if i did. and i know that i could referre a good 300 people. so then they would meet their quota.... $300 is alot of money for a medical card......when you can get it for $150 now.....


Well-Known Member
$300.00 is A LOT for a card that has to be re-newed every year. On top of the card cost isn the doctors referral at $200.00 year. So now it costs $500.00 a year to use cannabis as medicine. Plus this all has to be paid for and obtained as close together date wise as possible or else your card and recommendation will be out of date with each other. So in reality the $500.00 becomes yearly fee at one time. Can most of the members here come up with $500.00 "extra" cash every year? I know I can't.


New Member
My I.D. card was only $10 with a annual office visit for $150. But I do not believe it is part of California State Program. Department of Heath Services?
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