Last week, the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors passed a resolution that will change the way medical marijuana users identify themselves and could eventually make their prescription-holder privileges valid throughout California.
The Board of Supervisors unanimously passed a resolution on Jan. 3 to adopt the state’s voluntary medical marijuana identification card program. Michael Harris, Santa Barbara County Public Health Dept. Deputy Director, said the new cards, which cost $108 per year and will be available on Feb. 2, are issued by the state and will eventually be recognized by law enforcement all over California. The new cards will feature a photo of the owner and include instructions for officers on how they can verify the card by checking a state website.
Harris said he hopes the new cards will make it easier for police officers to identify medicinal marijuana users in California. While medicinal marijuana users are only required by law to possess a physician’s prescription, many law enforcement officials do not accept the prescription alone as valid proof that someone is allowed to possess the drug.
“If you’re the law enforcement officers out there, letters [from doctors] don’t work,” Harris said.
Although the identification process for users has changed, the resolution will not affect Santa Barbara medicinal marijuana dispensaries or a physician’s ability to write prescriptions.
“This program simply has the public health department looking at documents from physicians, it does not regulate them,” Harris said. “Physicians are their own responsible entity.”
Brooks Firestone, 3rd District Supervisor, said the county’s adoption of the state program is only a way to standardize the way medical marijuana users are identified.
“The state has adopted standards for identification and, essentially, we just conformed the county system to the state,” Firestone said.
The statewide medicinal marijuana identification card program has been in development since 1996 when California voters passed Proposition 215, which allows California residents to possess medicinal marijuana if prescribed by a physician. Harris said the proposition did not include a uniformed process for identifying patients, which made it difficult for law enforcement to verify that prescriptions were valid.
“So the day after [the proposition] is passed, everyone’s going 1,000 different directions at once,” Harris said.
In response to the confusion, Santa Barbara County its own temporary volunteer identification program two years ago. Harris said the county I.D. card program fell 200 participants short of its 500-person goal, causing the county to lose $20,000.
“As soon as we recoup the losses, the [I.D. card] prices will lower,” Harris said.
Harris said many patients are uncomfortable using a prescription that is still illegal on the federal level and are cautious about submitting personal information to the county. He said the county purposely keeps the questions on the ID request form nondescript, so it is impossible to know specific details about local cardholders.
Firestone said he is still concerned about the way the federal government handles the possession and use of marijuana.
“Why is it not treated like other prescriptions?” Firestone said. “You don’t have to have an I.D. for narcotics.”