Pubdate: Sun, 20 Nov 2005
Source: San Francisco Examiner (CA)
Copyright: 2005 San Francisco Examiner
Author: Lisa Leff, Associated Press
Bookmark: (Cannabis - Medicinal)


Legalizing marijuana use for medical reasons was easy for California
voters nearly a decade ago, but putting the law into practice has been
anything but simple for state and local officials struggling to
identify bona fide pot patients.

Consider two counties at opposite ends of the political

In conservative San Diego, supervisors opposed to marijuana use voted
this month to sue rather than offer state-ordered ID cards. In liberal
San Francisco, officials postponed issuing the cards over concerns
records could expose patients to federal drug charges.

The identification cards are the latest hang-up in the state's ongoing
experiment with decriminalizing marijuana since voters in 1996
approved the "Compassionate Use Act." While some counties are balking
at a California Department of Health Services directive to issue the
identification cards, some cities have banned marijuana dispensaries

So far, only six of California's 58 counties have complied with the
mandate to process ID applications and forward participants' photos
and card numbers to the state. The information collected by local
health departments will be entered in an Internet database police can
access to confirm someone's status as a legitimate medical cannabis

It is too soon to say whether the state will try to force compliance,
said Teresa Schilling, a spokeswoman for Attorney General Bill
Lockyer. Historically, the state has given local governments a lot of
latitude in how they approach medical marijuana because of weaknesses
in the original act, she said.

San Diego's legal challenge to the ID card requirement could change
that. County supervisors, after refusing to participate in the
program, voted 4-0 to force the issue by suing the state. The
supervisors said they don't agree that local governments should be in
the business of condoning drug use.

In San Francisco, meanwhile, county supervisors urged the local health
department this month to delay adopting the state ID cards until at
least January while questions about efforts to safequard patient
privacy were worked out.

The city already issues its own ID cards to about 8,000 medical
marijuana patients, but applicants are required to provide little
identifying information that could potentially be subpoenaed by
federal drug agents, said Supervisor Ross Mirkarimi.

Under the state program, applicants must have their photographs taken
and provide proof of county residency, government-issued
identification such as a driver's license and a copy of the medical
records indicating why they need to smoke pot.

"We are a state that is trying to pirouette around the surreal climate
of medical cannabis being illegal in federal eyes and yet we want it
to be decriminalized on the state and local levels," Mirkarimi said.
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