Medical Marijuana ID Cards Issued

.c The Associated Press

By JESSIE SEYFER

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) - With $25 and a doctor's note, sick people can get an
official city ID card entitling them to use marijuana, the city's maverick
district attorney proudly announced Friday.

The program shields card-holders caught with the drug from local prosecution -
though marijuana possession remains illegal under federal law.

``This represents another stone in the foundation we're building to make people
recognize that cannabis is a legitimate medicinal agent,'' said District
Attorney Terence Hallinan. ``I'm not really worried we won't be able to work
things out with the federal government.''

Californians voted to legalize marijuana for medical use in 1996, but the ballot
measure they approved has been entangled in legal disputes ever since.

The Office of National Drug Control Policy has long opposed medical marijuana
initiatives, considering them backdoor routes to legalizing marijuana. Agency
officials refused to comment on San Francisco's new ID program.

In addition to California, measures approving the medical use of marijuana have
passed in Alaska, Arizona, Hawaii, Maine, Nevada, Oregon and Washington state.

While federal opposition to marijuana remains strong, there are signs that
government arguments against states' medicinal marijuana measures may be
weakening.

A federal judge on Friday hinted he may be forced to allow an Oakland club to
distribute medicinal marijuana because the Justice Department hasn't rebutted
evidence that cannabis is the only effective treatment for a large group of
seriously ill people.

U.S. District Judge Charles R. Breyer of San Francisco said he would rule Monday
in the complex case, which draws in the wider conflict between California's
medical marijuana initiative and federal drug regulations.

Jane Weirick, who uses marijuana to alleviate pain from a back ailment, said the
city's ID cards will ``finally give us legitimacy.''

``I was taking prescription opiates and was stuck in bed all the time,'' she
said. ``When I started taking cannabis, I was finally able to function. It was
like night and day.''

Former state Attorney General Dan Lungren opposed any attempt to carry out the
1996 ballot measure and shut down most of the state's informal marijuana
distribution clubs.

But since Bill Lockyer took over as attorney general last year, the state's
position has shifted toward support for the creation of a statewide marijuana ID
program.

``When Proposition 215 passed, many prosecutors said they wouldn't enforce it,''
said San Francisco Department of Public Health Director Mitch Katz. ``But things
are different in San Francisco.''

As a prosecutor, Hallinan, who describes himself as ``America's most progressive
district attorney,'' has refused to carry out the government's War on Drugs,
choosing instead to send minor drug offenders to diversion programs.

His stance on marijuana is shared by a growing number of law enforcement
officials elsewhere in Northern California, where attitudes toward marijuana
have a decidedly mellow tone. Similar marijuana ID programs already are in use
in Mendocino County and Arcata.

To get the card in San Francisco, a doctor must sign a form agreeing to monitor
the patient's medical condition. The cards are good for up to two years, and
minors can get them too with approval from a parent or guardian. The program
doesn't address how card-holders will obtain the drug. It merely shields them
from prosecution - and then only local prosecution.

Police officials have described it as an efficient way to distinguish medical
users from recreational ones.

``This is a wonderful civics lesson that could only occur in a place like San
Francisco,'' said Police Department Assistant Chief Prentice Sanders. ``We find
that this is an orderly way to carry out the law and the will of the people.''