|Sutter County supervisors consider medical pot ID cards
April 03, 2010 11:24:00 PM
Fourteen years have passed since California voters approved the use of marijuana with a doctor's prescription, yet Sutter County is one of the last holdouts against identification cards for users. But that may change soon.
A public hearing Tuesday night may clear the way for the county to issue ID cards for medical marijuana users. Approval by the Board of Supervisors would leave Colusa County as the last of 58 counties not to participate in the state program.
Despite years of resistance by the county, some officials appeared ready to come to terms with the state, if reluctantly.
"I'm leaning toward supporting it, if only for the fact that it is a state law," Supervisor Jim Whiteaker said last week. "There are laws we don't agree with, but we have to enforce all the state laws that come before the board."
To receive a card, applicants would need a recommendation from a California-licensed doctor to use marijuana to treat conditions such as glaucoma or cancer-related pain, according to Tom Sherry, the county's human services director. The fee for an ID card would be $128 a year or $64 for those in the Medi-Cal program.
The Mid-Valley counties have been among the last to respond to Proposition 215, the 1996 ballot measure that cleared the way for medical cannabis use despite a federal ban. The law provided for counties to issue cards to residents with prescriptions to use marijuana, but no such programs appeared locally until Yuba County started one in 2008.
San Diego, San Bernardino and Merced counties challenged Proposition 215 in court, but a San Diego judge rejected the suit in 2006 and the state Supreme Court declined to take the case last year. In October, the U.S. Justice Department announced it would no longer prosecute medical pot patients in the 14 states that allow use of the drug.
Several Sutter County leaders said those developments were needed to assure them a program would not put them in the crossfire of state and federal conflicts.
"All the questions have been asked and answered, so now we can move into it without conflicts, all the community angst this could create," Supervisor Stan Cleveland said Tuesday. "We're able to comply with state law, and hopefully not be in conflict with federal law. We've been able to take advantage of the knowledge of other counties' (experiences) and what they've been through."
Sheriff J. Paul Parker called an ID card registry useful for distinguishing medical from criminal pot use, saying such records would save investigators time and effort.
"A lot of these checks can be done sooner if there's a registry," Parker said. "Without condoning it, it makes it easier to enforce state law. It'll help us clarify who is and isn't a bona fide medical user."
At least one official, though, remained unwilling to cross federal drug law even with the softening federal stance on marijuana users.
"If it's legal, I support it; and if it's not legal, I don't support it," said Supervisor Larry Montna. "If we pass it, nothing prevents the feds from busting whatever we have, and that ain't right. You've got to have a law that's upheld by country, state, county and city. You can't choose what laws you do and don't want to uphold."
While resistance to ID card programs appears to be fading, marijuana advocates still fear other attempts by counties and cities to curb the drug, according to Ellen Komp, deputy director of the advocacy group California NORML. In the Sacramento Valley, the Tehama County Board of Supervisors is to decide Tuesday — the same day as Sutter County's public hearing — on restrictions that include a requirement to report the presence of legal marijuana plants with the county, which opponents call a violation of the Fifth Amendment right to avoid self-incrimination.
Still, the expansion of ID card programs — and a ballot proposition this year that would legalize and tax marijuana in the state — heartened her. "There's still a great deal of prejudice against marijuana from those who don't know much about it, a kind of knee-jerk reaction from those who still think it'll cause reefer madness. But we're seeing that change," Komp said. "We've seen more movement in the last year than in the 20 years before that."
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