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Medical Marijuana Cards OK’d

Fresno County becomes 41st in state to adopt the ID program.

By Barbara Anderson / The Fresno Bee
09/09/08 22:51:48

People who smoke marijuana for medical reasons will now be able to get an identification card in Fresno County so they can prove to police that they have a doctor’s prescription.

Fresno County on Tuesday became the 41st county in the state to agree to participate in California’s Medical Marijuana Program registry. The Board of Supervisors voted 3-1 to join up.

Using marijuana, even for medicinal reasons, is against federal law. But in 1996, California enacted the Compassionate Use Act, which allows patients and caregivers to possess or grow marijuana if a doctor has recommended it for medical use.

The identification card law was added in 2003 to try to protect medical-marijuana patients and caregivers from being arrested.

Counties began issuing identification cards in 2005. Patients can choose whether to apply for a card, which must be renewed every year.

Last year, 6,782 cards were issued statewide, according to the California Department of Public Health. The state expects 8,000 cards to be issued in 2008-09.

Tulare, Merced and Kern counties in the San Joaquin Valley issued cards to medical-marijuana users this year.

Medical marijuana users applauded Fresno County supervisors for joining the state registry.

“This is probably the best thing that has happened to us, ever,” said Dana Bobbitt, 48, of Fresno.

Bobbitt said he began using marijuana four years ago to ease pain from degenerative discs in his back. The pain developed after he was injured on the job as an iron worker a dozen years ago, he said.

Bobbitt said he can’t use traditional painkillers, because they usually affect the liver and he has hepatitis C. “The medicinal value of marijuana is real.”

How many Fresno County residents now will request an identification card is not known. Not everyone applies for a card, because it can be expensive, and the cards are only needed to identify medical-marijuana users if stopped by law enforcement.

The cost of a card varies by county, but it can be several hundred dollars. Counties can charge to recover expenses, and the state charges $66 per card. Low-income residents pay a $33 state fee, in addition to county charges.

In July, Fresno County supervisors said they wanted to delay any decision on the ID cards until the 4th District Court of Appeals decided a case brought by San Diego and San Bernardino Counties. The counties had appealed a request to implement the medical-marijuana identification card law.

On Tuesday, the issue was back before the board. Kathleen Grassi, assistant director of the Fresno County Department of Public Health, said the appellate court had ruled against the counties.

The Health Department will be in charge of taking applications for the cards for patients in the county.

Fresno County Sheriff Margaret Mims had said in July that the cards might encourage medical-marijuana users to drive under the influence of the drug. But no one from the Sheriff’s Department or Fresno Police was present Tuesday.

“I’m taking that as a statement they do not have a problem with this issues, because they are not here,” said board Chairman Henry R. Perea.

Supervisor Susan Anderson said Fresno County should honor the state law “even if we disagree with it.”

Perea, Anderson and Bob Waterston supported the identification card program. Supervisor Phil Larson voted against it. Supervisor Judy Case abstained, saying, “I don’t agree with it.”

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