Source: San Francisco Chronicle (CA)
Author: Patrick Hoge, Chronicle Staff Writer
Published: Wednesday, February 16, 2005 - Page B - 1
Copyright: 2005 San Francisco Chronicle
Contact: [email protected]
California health officials plan to issue identification cards to
medical marijuana users that would prohibit state and local authorities
from seizing their stashes or prosecuting them, officials said Tuesday.
The cards will be available this summer for patients in at least 10
counties, including Marin and Sonoma, and statewide by the end of the
year, said state Department of Health Services spokeswoman Norma Arceo.
All cards will have photographs, she said, and the state will have a 24-
hour, toll-free number that police can call to verify that
identification cards are authentic. Five other states -- Alaska, Hawaii,
Nevada, Oregon and Washington -- have similar ID cards, Arceo said.
News of California's card program came as an advocacy group in Berkeley
filed a lawsuit Tuesday, claiming the California Highway Patrol has
seized marijuana from people who have provided a written doctor's
"It's a sorry, sorry state of affairs when people fear having their
property taken by cops rather than criminals,'' said Joseph Elford, an
attorney with Americans for Safe Access, which filed the suit in Alameda
County Superior Court in Oakland.
A study by the group last year estimated the cost to state and local
government of processing such cases was about $4 million a year.
CHP spokesman Tom Marshall said Tuesday that the agency would honor the
state-issued ID cards but would continue its long-standing policy of
confiscating marijuana seized from motorists until the cards were
"We're just continuing the policy that we've had,'' Marshall said. "The
change will be when those cards are issued.''
A voluntary card program was authorized in late 2003 by a law sponsored
by former state Sen. John Vasconcellos, D-San Jose, but money was not
available for implementation until Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger approved a
$1.5 million startup loan, said H.D. Palmer, deputy director of the
governor's Department of Finance. The money will be repaid, and the ID
card program will be sustained with fees charged to cardholders, he
Federal law enforcement agencies, by contrast, have maintained that
marijuana use is illegal nationwide.
Vasconcellos' bill, which then-Gov. Gray Davis signed, attempted to
standardize the jumble of local medical marijuana laws passed after
1996, when state voters approved Proposition 215, the Compassionate Use
Act, that legalized medical use of marijuana. The SB420 set a statewide
possession limit of 8 ounces per authorized individual.
Elford said the CHP's position is illegal because Vasconcellos'
legislation does not require that patients have a state-issued
identification card, only a written or verbal doctor's authorization.
Anthony Bowles of San Francisco, one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit
filed Tuesday, said he had been pulled over in May by a CHP officer
because his front license plate was missing. The officer searched him
without his consent, Bowles said, and found 3 grams of marijuana that he
had for his mother, who suffers from a chronic anxiety disorder.
He said he had shown the officer the "primary caregiver'' card issued to
him by the San Francisco Department of Heath, but the officer seized the
pot and issued him a misdemeanor citation for possession of marijuana.
The possession charge was withdrawn by the prosecutor at Bowles' first
court appearance, and now Bowles is trying to get the pot back.
"It's horrendous," said Bowles, 28. "I think, 'What if it was my mother
instead of me who was going through this?' ''
Arceo said the state would begin a pilot program for the ID cards this
summer in Amador, Del Norte, Trinity, Mendocino, Marin, Shasta,
Sacramento, Sonoma, Santa Cruz and Yuba counties. All 58 counties will
be issuing cards by December, she said.
Related Articles & Web Sites:
Americans For Safe Access
Medical Marijuana Information Links
Group Sues State To Stop CHP Pot Confiscations
Suit Challenges CHP Confiscation of Medical Pot