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Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Board of Supervisors Approves of Medical Marijuana ID Cards by 3-2 Vote

The Yolo County Board of Supervisors earlier today heard an item to approve and authorize the implementation of the Medical Marijuana Identification Card Program in Yolo County as required by Senate Bill 420. The Health Department would be the entity responsible for issuing identification cards to eligible residents.

Despite federal law making the possession of marijuana illegal, California law authorized by Senate Bill 420 in 2003 requires counties to issue medical marijuana identification cards for medicinal purposes.

This authorization would be to simply accept an application and fee, take a photo of the user, a verification that the patient is a Yolo County resident and that the doctor is licensed in the state of California and indeed prescribed the drug to the patient. Medical marijuana would be allowed for patients with AIDS, cancer, glaucoma, multiple sclerosis, and other serious ailments. They may have up to eight ounces of marijuana in their possession and up to six plants per patient.

A number of individuals affiliated with various advocacy groups including health advocacy and patients advocacy made a strong case that marijuana had very strong positive effects.

Peter Simpson who is the executive director of a social service agency pointed out that marijuana has legitimate medication value for people with needs. People who are staving to death from AIDS and suffer nausea from pain medication are literally starving to death as they lack the calorie intake to survive. Marijuana use both reduces nausea and increases appetite.

Another concern raised was the instances of arrest for marijuana possession which has risen by a large margin in the last 15 to 20 years. This was presented as a means to keep sick people out of the legal system where they do not belong and allow them to get the help of that they need. Aaron Smith of the advocacy group Safe Access Now pointed out that this would help remove the burden from law enforcement to identify those who are legitimate users by providing them with a uniform means of identifying individuals who have legitimate purposes.

Yolo County District Attorney Jeff Reisig and Sheriff Ed Prieto both argued against this proposal from a legal standpoint. Reisig argued, "If this passes, it puts law enforcement in between a rock and a hard place." He pointed out that the majority of counties have not gone this route. Moreover this is a "Violation of federal law, period." The U.S. Supreme Court he argued, made it clear that federal law through supremacy cause makes federal law binding in the states.

Supervisor Mike McGowan asked District Attorney Reisig if an officer stopping someone is enforcing federal or state law?

Reisig completely avoided that question and simply repeated that this put a law enforcement officer between a rock and a hard place.

However, Reisig avoided the question because he knows full well that the county and local police do not enforce federal laws, rather they enforce state laws and the state law of California is clear, not only does the law allow the use of marijuana with the permission of a doctor for the purposes of medicinal use but the state law Senate Bill 420 requires counties to provide identification cards. And the State Supreme Court upheld this law this past December.

Supervisor Mariko Yamada strongly supported this item. She pointed out that she supported Proposition 215 in 1996. She said it requires courage to lead the way rather than someone else tell us what to do. She argued that this brings structure to what is already a chaotic system and that the issue was compassion versus criminalization.

Supervisor Helen Thomson moved this item and McGowan seconded the motion.

Supervisor Thomson said that the District Attorney and Sheriff are between a rock and a hard place.
“For me medical necessities outweigh that concern. Many people are helped with this ability to use this drug. It is time we got over the strange way of dividing how we access drugs for pain and get over punishing people who are in pain instead of helping them.”
The motion passed 3-2 with Rexroad and Chamberlain dissenting.

It was a bit disappointing to see Rexroad vote against the item as he had come out in favor of the item on his blog just a few days earlier citing he had "real doubt about making it illegal while we allow alcohol and tacacco (sic) to be used freely. We have to draw a line somewhere but I am not sure that the current line can be justified."

Nevertheless with the three Democrats on the board voting in favor of it--Yamada, McGowan, and Thomson--Yolo County has achieved Yamada's somewhat tongue-in-cheek goal of "not letting Los Angeles get ahead of us on this issue."

On a more serious note, this is something that can help a lot of people who are dying and in a great deal of pain live out their last days in a greater measure of comfort and human dignity than the current system allots them. It seems amazing in this day and age that we have draconian notions of law enforcement and antiquated fears of abuse stand in the way of sick people and relief. It is a shame that our law enforcement community was not more supportive of this endeavor that would seem to make their job easier rather than more difficult.

---Doug Paul Davis reporting