By Kyle Serzen
June 26, 2009 (San Diego)--The San Diego County Board of Supervisors lit up some controversy during its meeting on Tuesday, which included two medical marijuana issues. The first was a resolution passed unanimously 5-0 to allow patients to apply for a medical marijuana ID card beginning July 6th. The Board also passed a measure asking County Counsel to draft language prohibiting marijuana dispensaries in the County’s unincorporated areas, by a vote of 4-1.
In emotionally charged testimony, proponents of medical marijuana testified that it relieves conditions including glaucoma, chronic pain, and nausea from chemotherapy. Some criticized the County for raids and arrests of medical marijuana patients. Others opposed making medical marijuana more easily available, disputing the benefits and expressing concern over decriminalization of the drug.
Medical marijuana users will have to pay an annual fee of $166 for the cards. Of that fee, $66 goes to the State, and the remaining $100 is the County’s estimate to compensate for costs of the cards. The County may take up to 30 days to issue the card so that they will have time to verify legitimacy of the prescription and ensure that the prescribing doctor is in good standing with the Medical Board of California.
Supervisor Dianne Jacob noted that the resolution creates “a gray area . . . as these cards may provide a false sense of security. Users can still be prosecuted under federal law.” Some medical marijuana patients, while supportive of ID cards, objected to the program being run by the County and suggested privatization.
“The issue that I have here is my privacy,” testified Rudy Reyes (photo), a burn victim of the Cedar Fire who instigated litigation to force the County to comply with state laws allowing use of medical marijuana. He referred to the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA), which protects the privacy of individually identifiable health information. “I have the right to keep my records privatized—not in any governmental hands. We have asked you as the patients of San Diego to find a designee for this program, not the Health Services Department that has held the same prejudices as the County Board of Supervisors.”
Others objected to costs of the cards. Wendy Christakes testified she is living on $800 a month and struggling to get by. “People on low income should have fees waived,” she said, adding that she is also concerned about the County transferring information on medical marijuana users to the Department of Motor Vehicles.
Jim Redman, executive director of Californians for Drug Free, criticized “permissive drug laws” and opposed medical marijuana cards being issued. He said guidelines issued by Attorney General Jerry Brown have narrow guidelines and some cities and counties are allowing much larger quantities to be possessed by medical marijuana patients than what state law provides. He argued that state law “should not establish a green light for cannabis sales.”
The prohibition on medical marijuana dispensaries in the unincorporated areas is targeted only towards for-profit dispensaries, said County Counsel John Sansone. “Cooperatives and collectives are allowed within state law,” he added.
“We’ve taken the first step (with the medical marijuana cards). The second step is zoning changes to allow legal access, but to prevent illegal activity in the unincorporated areas,” said Supervisor Pam Slater-Price. Her concerns stem from the high levels of methamphetamine use, drug smuggling, and drug sales that occur in unincorporated areas. But some area residents testified that they fear a continuation in County law enforcement activities which have targeted medical marijuana users and dispensaries.
“Every single attempt to operate a cooperative in SD has resulted in an environment of fear,” said Eugene Davidovich. “The DEA has made it clear – SD is not a safe place for cooperatives, and patients are rounded up and arrested.”
One patient committed suicide after being arrested, he added. “I beg you to put forth regulations so people know what is legal or not,” Donna Lambert told the Supervisors. Lambert said she has seen “people in wheelchairs, people with canes, growing eight plants that they thought was legal” arrested and that in some cases, “County authorities have “kicked in their door and shoved people to the ground.”
Chrissakes provided emotional testimony asking for guidelines for patients and dispensaries. “What am I to do, because I can’t grow cannabis if I’m a mother and CPS will take my children and call me an unfit mother,” she asked, adding, “I’m a conservative person but I refuse to take oxycontin …I could not take care of my children.”
Supervisor Ron Roberts, who cast the sole vote against the measure, said that “laws should be clear and easy to follow, but the law being put forward . . . doesn’t do these things and I’m very disappointed.” He pointed out that zoning codes lack provisions for other illegal activities such as illegal gambling, which is illegal regardless of where it takes place. “We need to accept that (Proposition) 215 is the law,” he added. Many speakers present at the hearing claimed that this doesn’t accomplish anything that isn’t already dictated by state law. “Something that’s illegal is illegal” was the refrain of opponents to the measure. However, Sansone noted that this measure will be “an added tool for dealing with illegal dispensaries” because it “adds a civil tool for injunction when criminal laws are not working.”