Two California Counties Nix Marijuana ID Cards
Fourteen years after Californians voted to legalize the medicinal use of marijuana, two counties — in violation of state law — are still refusing to issue official identification cards to cannabis patients.
Senate Bill 420, passed in 2003, directs California counties to issue ID cards to patients using medical marijuana with a doctor’s approval. Unfortunately, SB 420 doesn’t list specific sanctions against counties that refuse to do so.
Yes, even Sheriff J. Paul Parker last week endorsed the plan as a way to clearly separate medical marijuana patients apart from drug abusers and traffickers, lightening the workload for law enforcement.
“To be honest, we’re disappointed in this decision,” said Dale Gieringer of California NORML. “It really leaves the residents of Sutter County hanging high and dry compared to everybody else in the state.”
“It’s absolutely outrageous,” said Aaron Smith, California policy director for the Marijuana Policy Project (MPP). “They clearly have no respect for the taxpayers who will foot the bill for a lawsuit [the county] can’t win.”
“They’re sworn to uphold the state constitution and they turn their backs on it,” Smith said. “It’s like an act of civil disobedience, which has its place — but not among officials running a county government.”
“It would take someone to sue them to show them they have no way not to implement” the ID cards, said Steve King, an Olivehurst man who owned a cooperative in Yuba County last October, only to have the county shut it down within days for “violating zoning codes.”
The Department of Public Health could sanction the county, or pass the matter to Attorney General Jerry Brown. Health officials still haven’t decided on their next month, according to public health spokesman Ralph Montano.
One candidate seeking a Sutter County supervisor’s seat was quick to display his ignorance around the subject.
“I was surprised, to say the least, that the board actually had the strength and courage of character to say, ‘No, we don’t want it,’” said Dick Boundy, one of four people challenging Supervisor Larry Munger for his Third District seat. “I assumed it would pass and was very pleased that it did not,” Boundy said.
Medical marijuana users “can get it through hospitals and pharmacies,” Boundy incorrectly said. “They don’t need to go through counties to get it.”
San Diego County finally issued its first medical marijuana identification cards in July 2009, and San Bernardino County followed suit in August, a full six years after being instructed to do so by the state Legislature.
Both counties, along with seven other, predominantly rural, California counties that followed their lead, flat-out refused to implement the program until legally forced to do so.
While other counties got busy implementing state-mandated medical marijuana ID card programs, for three years, these counties did nothing.
Then, in 2006, they mounted a quixotic court challenge to both Prop 215 (which legalized medical marijuana passed by 56 percent of state voters in 1996) and SB 420 (which clarified and expanded Prop 215, directing counties to issue ID cards for medical marijuana patients, passed by the Legislature in 2003).
The counties argued that complying with California’s medical marijuana law would mean violating federal drug laws, which they claimed preempted state laws. Their preemption argument was rejected by every court, at every single step of the legal process.
Sounds expensive, right? Foolish and futile, even? Yeah, actually it is.
Neither county is saying much, though, about the massive legal expenses they undoubtedly incurred over the course of their senseless three-year battle, all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court — which of, course, they then lost. (The San Diego Board of Supervisors alone spent $5,000 on the case, according to San Diego News Network.)
But you know, talking about how much tax money was wasted by those counties — and, incredibly, is about to be wasted again, by Sutter and Colusa counties — might lead to some actual accountability for the local county government officials who made the decision to waste thousands of dollars in a doomed attempt to avoid being dragged, kicking and screaming, into the 21st Century.