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Many California Patients Are Foregoing California Marijuana ID Card

Posted on December 14, 2010 in Drug Crimes

Proposition 215 legalized medical marijuana in 1996, upon a doctor's recommendation. In 2003, California created a state marijuana ID card program. It was two years before the program got off the ground with the launch of the ID card in 2005. The optional ID cards have not become as popular as officials expected.

Possession of a small amount of marijuana, up to an ounce, is not an offense that can subject a person to arrest under California state law. With medical marijuana, however, problems can often occur. The California marijuana ID cards were created to help protect Californians from arrest or having their medical marijuana seized by law enforcement.

The ID cards are optional, but many say their cost make them unattractive to many Californians. In 2007 the fee for the cards jumped from $13 to $66. Patients covered under Medi-Cal pay half that rate. Counties add their own fees to the cards that can push the price to over $100 each year.

In 2008, three years into the program California had issued 10,274 cards. A mere shadow of the approximately 100,000 cards officials expected to issue to patients across the state. In 2008, only 28 counties participated in the program. Last fiscal year was the first time all California counties signed on the marijuana ID card program. Only 12,659 cards were issued.

Many patients decide to forego the extra protection the card gives them due to the high fees. The California Highway Patrol is supposed to use their own discretion on whether to accept a different form of proof such as a local or private card or doctor's written recommendation.

However, Kris Hermes, a spokesman for Americans for Safe Access told the Contra Costa Times his group routinely hears from patients carrying private cards who say "law enforcement regularly refuses to recognize those cards." He says officers in the state do not always accept the state-issued ID card. "However, in many more instances, they're refusing to recognize a private card."

Hermes says that the system floundered early on and with the rise in cost the program is now suffering from low participation. He says that "if the purpose is to assist law enforcement and reduce the number of unlawful seizures and arrests, it would make sense to have a well-functioning card system." California criminal defense attorneys know unlawful seizures and arrests occur across the state.

Law enforcement has the capability to verify a state issued card on the state website. Some believe that carrying a state card seems to ease problems during traffic stops or other encounters with law enforcement.

Source: Contra Costa Times, "High fees hobble California marijuana ID card program," John Simerman, 14 Dec 2010

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