Pubdate: Sun, 27 Dec 2009
Source: North County Times (Escondido, CA)
Copyright: 2009 North County Times
Author: Edward Sifuentes
Bookmark: (Cannabis - Medicinal - United States)


Advocates Say Fear, Cost Keep Many From Applying

San Diego County has received 260 applications for medical marijuana 
ID cards since it launched the program in July, according to county 
health officials.

Nearly half the applications were from people ages 31-50, according 
to data provided by the county. A quarter of the applicants lived in 
North County, most of them in Carlsbad.

All of the applicants paid $166 for the card, which identifies them 
as legitimate medical marijuana patients entitled to carry up to 8 
ounces of pot.

The county implemented the program this past summer after it lost a 
long legal struggle challenging the state law that required counties 
to provide the ID cards. The law does not require medical marijuana 
patients to have a card.

While acknowledging the program has only been in place for six 
months, medical marijuana advocates say the 260 applicants do not 
come close to the number of people they believe are legally allowed 
to use the drug. They say patients may be reluctant to apply for the 
card, fearing the information on the applications will be used by authorities.

"The problem here in San Diego County is that nobody trusts (the 
county)," said Rudy Reyes, a medical marijuana patient and activist.

The county says those fears are unfounded. The information on the 
applications is protected under federal privacy laws. And the 
county's top prosecutor said people should use the card because it 
quickly identifies them as legitimate users of the drug.

In recent years, law enforcement agencies in the county have 
repeatedly cracked down on medical marijuana dispensaries, including 
a Sept. 9 sweep that shut down 14 of the shops, two of them in North County.

The number of cards issued in San Diego County in the program's first 
six months appears to be on par with the number issued by neighboring 
counties in their first year, according to state figures.

For example, Riverside County issued 265 medical marijuana cards its 
first year, Los Angeles County issued 401 cards and Orange County 
issued 114 cards. But advocates cite other places, such as Oakland in 
Alameda County, which issued 1,475 cards in its first year.

Unfounded Fears?

There are potentially thousands of eligible patients in San Diego 
County based on discussions with doctors who recommend pot as 
medicine, said Eugene Davidovich, a medical marijuana advocate with 
the group Americans for Safe Access.

"People are afraid," Davidovich said.

County officials said legitimate patients have nothing to fear.

The county does not provide personal information from the 
applications to anyone, including law enforcement, because it is 
protected by federal privacy laws, said Adrienne Yancey, assistant 
deputy director at the county's Health and Human Services Agency.

"We do not," Yancey said. "If we were subpoenaed, I can't say what 
would happen then ... (but) we have not been subpoenaed."

District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis said her office has not asked for 
the information. She said people should use the ID cards because they 
help law enforcement identify legitimate patients.

"No one should feel intimidated," Dumanis said. "The county program 
is totally separate from us."

Of the 260 applications the county received this year through 
November, 255 were approved. Five were rejected because the county 
could not get the doctor to confirm the recommendation, Yancey said.

Other statistical information provided to the North County Times by 
the county includes patients' age range and city of residency. The 
newspaper also asked for, but did not receive, information on the 
types of illnesses reported by patients and information about their 
medical providers.

That information was not provided due to privacy rules, county officials said.

More Data

Most of the people who requested a medical marijuana ID are between 
the ages of 31 and 50, a total of 114 patients, according to the 
data. Of the 260 applicants, only 14 were between the ages of 18 and 21.

Nearly half of the applicants, 120 people, said they lived in San 
Diego. Sixty applicants said they lived in North County cities, 
according to the data. Carlsbad had the highest number of applicants 
in North County, 14, followed by Vista with 11 and Oceanside with 10, 
according to the county's data.

Patients' distrust coupled with the $166 price tag for the card may 
have discouraged people from applying, said James Stacy, a Vista 
resident who operated one of the medical marijuana dispensaries 
raided by authorities in September.

The state requires a $66 fee and the county charges $100 to cover 
staff time and other administrative costs. San Diego County's $166 
fee is $13 higher than neighboring Riverside and Los Angeles 
counties, which charge $153 for the cards.

"Why would I pay $166 to be harassed and be put on a potential arrest 
list?" Stacy asked.

Stacy faces federal charges of selling marijuana to an undercover 
officer who posed as a patient at Movement in Action. He has said he 
did nothing wrong and operated his dispensary according to state guidelines.

In 1996, voters in the state approved the Compassionate Use Act, 
which legalized marijuana for medical use. The Legislature later 
passed Senate Bill 420 in 2003, which required counties to 
participate in the state's medical marijuana ID program.

The county fought the state's medical marijuana law until the case 
hit a legal dead end earlier this year, when the U.S. Supreme Court 
declined to hear an appeal from San Diego and San Bernardino counties.

'Additional Protection'

After losing that case, the Board of Supervisors agreed to implement 
the medical marijuana ID card program.

Officials estimated that they would receive about 100 applications a 
month based on other counties' experience.

Yancey said the county processed about 100 applications the first 
month, but the number quickly dropped off in following months.

Since the state began the program in 2004, more than 37,000 medical 
marijuana ID cards have been issued. The county with the largest 
number of cards is San Francisco, with more than 13,000, according to 
the state's Department of Public Health.

Riverside County has 2,180 ID cards and Orange County has 622, 
according to state figures.

Davidovich said the county could do more to publicize the card and 
calm people's fears about privacy protection. Davidovich said he has 
a card and encourages others to get it because it offers an 
"additional layer of protection" for legitimate patients.

"We go out of our way to tell people to sign up for the program," 
Davidovich said.



Patients by Age

Ages 18-21: 14

Ages 22-30: 47

Ages 31-50: 114

Ages 50-over: 85

Total: 260

Applications by City

Carlsbad: 14

Chula Vista: 9

Del Mar: 5

El Cajon: 18

Encinitas: 3

Escondido: 7

Imperial Beach: 3

La Mesa: 12

Lemon Grove: 2

National City: 3

Oceanside: 10

Poway: 1

San Diego: 120

San Marcos: 7

Santee: 6

Solana Beach: 2

Vista: 11

Unincorporated: 27

Total: 260

Source: San Diego County Health and Human Service Agency


San Diego: 255

Riverside: 2,180

Orange : 622

Los Angeles: 1,579

Imperial: 15

San Bernardino: 200

Source: California Department of Public Health
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MAP posted-by: Richard Lake