By Patricia Lynn Henley
State officials are once again issuing Medical marijuana identification cards, giving patients and caregivers a way to prove they are protected under California's Compassionate Use Act, which was approved by voters in 1996. A law passed by the legislature in December 2003 requires the state to run a voluntary registration program. The California Department of Health Services set up the pilot Medical Marijuana Program (MMP) in 2004, but suspended operations last July because of legal worries after a related Supreme Court ruling. Medical marijuana use is OK in California, but the feds still view it as a no-no, punishable by jail time. However, the state attorney general advised health administrators that issuing ID cards would not aid and abet marijuana users in committing a federal crime, and the program resumed operations Aug. 1. Applicants must request the ID cards through their county of residence. Marin, Napa and Sonoma counties all recently began dispensing the state ID cards, but with mixed results. Marin previously provided its own county-issued cards, handing out 443 in 2002, 570 in 2003 and 874 in 2004. Since switching to the statewide program in mid-September, Marin has arranged for about 250 California MMP ID cards. Sonoma County began taking applications for the state IDs in mid-December and has processed 18 requests. It's impossible to estimate the actual need, says Dr. Leigh Hall, deputy health officer for Sonoma County. "We don't really know what to expect because we don't know how many people use medical marijuana and how many will want the cards, which are voluntary." Napa County began participating in MMP the last week in December and has only issued one card so far, says assistant public health manager Laura Keller. The cards cost $80, or $40 for those on Medi-Cal, and require proof of residency, a government-issued photo ID and a physician's note or medical record recommending medical marijuana as part of a treatment plan. To get an application packet, Marin County residents can call or drop by its vital statistics office in the public health department (555 Northgate Drive, second floor, San Rafael, 415.499.3288) as can those in Sonoma County (625 Fifth St., Santa Rosa, 707.565.4442). In Napa County applications must be picked up in person (2pm to 4:30pm, Thursdays only; Public Health Division, 2344 Old Sonoma Road, Building G, Napa).
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