Beginning April 1, the county of Marin
will begin charging a $25 annual processing fee for its medical
marijuana photo ID cards.

"This is the same fee that San Francisco charges. We believe that it
will approximately cover the costs," Larry Meredith, Marin County's
director of Health and Human Services, told county supervisors last
week.

The board voted 3-0, with supervisors Hal Brown and Steve Kinsey
absent, to implement the fee. There are currently 403 people using
the cards, Meredith said.

"We're getting about 50 applications a month," said Frima Stewart, a
county health department administrator who oversees the program.

The number of people using the cards has increased significantly
since Marin County Sheriff Robert Doyle and Marin's municipal police
chiefs pledged last year not to arrest card holders - unless there is
probable cause of possession for sale or some other offense.

"They've agreed to honor the county card," said Lynnette Shaw,
founder and director of Fairfax-based Marin Alliance for Medical
Marijuana, the county's only medical marijuana dispensary. "There
have been very little problem with the patients getting busted."

Despite the success of the county's card, the Marin Alliance
continues to issue its own card to its 1,970 registered members so
that they can track their marijuana purchases for tax purposes.

"It's 100 percent deductible as a medical expense from state taxes," Shaw said.

Shaw originally advised Marin Alliance members to stay away from the
county's certification process, which was initiated in 1997, after
several early card holders were arrested.

Angered by District Attorney Paula Kamena's policy on medical
marijuana enforcement, Shaw led an unsuccessful recall drive against
Kamena in 2000. The election cost the county $500,000.

At the same time that local law enforcement officers agreed to take
the card seriously, Kamena also eliminated guidelines from her office
as to the maximum number of marijuana plants or pounds of pot that a
card holder could possess without fear of prosecution.

"In effect, the recall worked because they quit busting the
patients," Shaw said.

But Kamena said that the new policy is not a green light for card
holders to possess as much marijuana as they want. Prosecutors now
judge each case based on the medical evidence available, Kamena said.

The county's card has been perfected over time.

At first, in addition to doctors, the county accepted recommendations
from dentists, dental surgeons, podiatrists, psychologists,
chiropractors and acupuncturists. These days card seekers must submit
a physician's signed statement that cannabis will benefit their
medical condition. Once a card is issued, the application is shredded.

In 2001, a photo ID was added to the card, and the card holder's
address removed. Cards also contain serial numbers. Law enforcement
officers in the field can call a 24-hour hotline to verify patients'
registration.

While the county's ID card shields legitimate medical marijuana users
from arrest and prosecution by local law enforcers, it provides no
protection from federal prosecution.

Shaw isn't sure how the conviction of Oakland resident Ed Rosenthal
on charges of felony conspiracy and cultivation charges last month
will affect the Marin Alliance. Rosenthal had been deputized by the
city of Oakland to grow marijuana for a patient's cooperative.

In June, U.S. District Judge Charles Breyer, who presided over the
Rosenthal case, ordered a permanent injunction against the Marin
Alliance and other Northern California cannabis clubs. Those who
continue to operate do so with the possibility of being held in
contempt of court.

"Who knows what is going to happen," Shaw said. "It's very frightening."

Contact Richard Halstead via e-mail at: rhalstead@marinij.com


Marin Independent Journal
Richard Halstead, IJ reporter
Saturday, March 08, 2003