Pubdate: Mon, 30 Jul 2001
Source: Marin Independent Journal (CA)
Copyright: 2001 Marin Independent Journal
Author: Richard Halstead


A photo ID will be added to the cards issued by the county of Marin to each 
approved user of medical marijuana in an effort to provide patients with 
increased confidentiality, county health officials said yesterday.

The user's address, listed on current cards, will be removed.

"We wanted to develop a system that would make people feel more comfortable 
using the county system while still meeting the needs of law enforcement 
and patients and their caregivers to know that the cards were issued 
legitimately," said Frima Stewart, a county health department administrator 
who helps oversee the county's medical marijuana ID program.

The county program was initiated with some fanfare in 1997. It was designed 
to help patients verify that they were acting within the law when 
cultivating, possessing or using marijuana.

Currently, however, there are only 12 people using the county card, Stewart 
said. That compares with 700 reported to be using a similar ID issued by 
the Fairfax-based Marin Alliance for Medical Marijuana, the county's only 
medical marijuana dispensary.

Medical marijuana users have regarded the county's program with suspicion. 
According to Lynnette Shaw, founder of the Marin Alliance, several medical 
marijuana users were arrested or had their plants confiscated after 
registering with the county in the early days of the program.

In fact, the first person to be issued a county certificate in 1997 was 
Alan Ager, a Nicasio podiatrist who had already been arrested for growing 
135 marijuana plants in 1996. Ager was arrested again in 1999 for growing 
hundreds of marijuana plants, which he said were for his personal medical 
use, and eventually sentenced to a year in jail.

"I tend to doubt in light of their track record that they're going to 
inspire any confidence at all in their program until they adopt the methods 
established by the San Francisco ID program," said Jane Weirick, who is 
serving as interim director of the Marin Alliance while Shaw is on a leave 
of absence.

The San Francisco ID card contains just a photo of the patient and a serial 
number - no name or address, Weirick said. No file or additional 
information on patients is kept, she said. Police can confirm the card is 
legitimate by confirming the serial number via the city's health department.

Stewart acknowledged that leaving the patient's name on the Marin county 
card is a drawback. But she said, "It's as confidential as we can make it. 
We also have to provide a reliable method in the field for verifying these 
cards are valid."

Other than that, however, the county's ID program will now be virtually 
identical to San Francisco's.

To get a Marin county card, prospective patients must submit a doctor's 
signed statement that cannabis will benefit their medical condition. Once a 
card is issued, the application is shredded, Stewart said.

"We've never kept files on patients," she said.

The Fairfax Planning Commission, which issues the Marin Alliance its use 
permit, voted in March to require the club to allow the county's ID program 
- - rather than the town - to check identification of buyers.

The club has resisted this and the matter will be discussed again at a 
commission meeting in September, along with other questions regarding the 
Marin Alliance's compliance with its use permit guidelines, said 
Commissioner Terri Alvillar.

The ID card issued by the Marin Alliance includes the name and photograph 
of the patient, Weirick said.  Unlike the county, the group keeps files on 
patients. The club would like to maintain greater confidentiality, Weirick 
said, but it must follow the dictates of the town of Fairfax.
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MAP posted-by: Larry Stevens