Pubdate: Wed, 24 Sep 2008
Source: Hanford Sentinel, The (CA)
Copyright: 2008 Lee Newspapers
Author: Eiji Yamashita
Bookmark: (Marijuana - Medicinal)


There was no debate. No controversy. No protest. People using 
marijuana for medical purposes with doctors' recommendation will be 
issued state-sanctioned identification cards in Kings County, the 
Board of Supervisors decided Tuesday.

By a unanimous vote, the supervisors adopted a medical marijuana ID 
card program. The decision makes Kings County the 42nd California 
counties to establish the program in compliance with a 2003 state law.

The program -- which advises police to accept authenticated cards as 
proof of medical need -- is intended to help legitimate patients with 
serious illness avoid arrest while giving police the tools to 
distinguish legal medical marijuana users from illegal stoners.

"To me this is a no-brainer, and I'm a strong supporter of this 
because this is not opening the gates to marijuana. This is focusing 
on people that (have the reasons) to register," said Supervisor Tony Oliveira.

"I'm not the one who is open to the use of marijuana personally, but 
I'm the one that strongly supports this. Our sister counties -- 
Fresno and Tulare counties -- have already stepped up to the plate, 
so it's time that we do the same," Oliveira said. The decision comes 
as a result of July 31 ruling by the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals 
that rejected the challenge by San Bernardino and San Diego counties 
and upheld that the medical marijuana ID system is legal. Similar 
decisions are pending in several other counties.

Advocates welcomed the action by Kings County.

"It's a win-win situation for law enforcement and patients," said 
Aaron Smith, California organizer with Marijuana Policy Project, the 
largest marijuana policy reform organization in the country.

Kings County's decision signals the kind of paradigm shift regarding 
the legalized, regulated use of marijuana, Smith said.

"In a conservative county like Kings County, where a majority of 
voters rejected Prop 215, this shows that the time to debate whether 
or not to follow the law is over."

In 1996, state voters legalized medical marijuana by passing 
Proposition 215 dubbed as the "Compassionate Use Act." In Kings 
County, nearly 57 percent of voters rejected the measure.

Meanwhile, Hanford police Chief Carlos Mestas took an "wait-and-see" 
attitude with the program.

"I think there's truly a need for select individuals who need relief. 
I have no problem with that, just as I have no problem with people 
who have needs for prescribed pain medication," Mestas said. "But too 
often, this card has become an excuse for some people to carry and 
grow marijuana.. A number of cities have reported a spike in crimes 
around marijuana dispensaries.

"This is going to be an wait-and-see," Mestas said.

Currently, there is no medical marijuana dispensaries in Kings County.

Fresno County, which has recently adopted its medical marijuana ID 
card program, projects about 500 patients seeking the cards. Tulare 
County, which implemented its program in 2006, has issued about 40 
cards over the past year, although officials say the $300-plus fee 
might have discouraged applications.

In Kings County, about 10 individuals are projected to apply for the 
cards, said Perry Rickard, public health department director.

Two of these people showed up to the board chambers Tuesday urging 
the board to adopt the program.

Charlie Ennes, 24, of Lemoore was one of them.

Ennes, a Fresno State student, said he suffers from Graves' Disease 
and social anxiety disorder and that medical marijuana provides him 
with an alternative without the side effects of prescribed 
hydrocodone that he takes for his conditions.

"I use it when I just can't take the pharmaceutical narcotics 
anymore," Ennes said." I think most people like me who have a history 
of taking other medications would be responsible in the use of 
medical marijuana. Marijuana is definitely less impeding to my 
functionality. I'm glad that Kings County took the step to adopt the 
program today."

Ennes said he has previously took a trip to a dispensary club in 
Oakland for medical marijuana. That's because his local doctor has 
been ambivalent of signing any written recommendation for medical 
marijuana use in the absence of a county-adopted ID program, he said.

"Based on the supervisors decision today, hopefully my doctor will be 
ready to write a recommendation for me," Ennes said. "It helps me to 
stay with a local doctor."

Joni Davis-Carter, of Hanford also praised the supervisors' decision. 
Davis-Carter, who identified herself as a patient of a nerve disorder 
called reflex sympathetic dystrophy, said the decision was long-awaited.

"It's bad enough suffering from the pain. I've been feeling like a 
criminal; I've just been trying to help myself," Davis-Carter said. 
"Medical marijuana helps relieve my symptoms and keeps me calm."

County officials say some strict protocols must be followed before ID 
cards are issued to patients with proven need for medical pot.

The county charges a fee of $225 per application and $112.50 for a 
Medi-Cal beneficiary.

The application must designate a primary care provider and includes a 
physician-signed recommendation proving that the need is legitimate. 
In addition, an electronically transmittable photo will be taken of 
an applicant and sent over to the state.

During a 30-day verification period, the county will verify the 
applicant's residence within the county and the recommending 
physician's licensure status with the Medical Board of California, 
Rickard said. 
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MAP posted-by: Richard Lake