Medical marijuana ID cards no longer a pipe dream?
by SEBASTIAN RUIZ
May 27, 2009 | 1131 views | 0 0 comments | 11 11 recommendations | email to a friend | print
San Diego County’s drive to deny medical marijuana identification cards disappeared in a puff of smoke last week after the U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear the county’s appeal of Proposition 215 approved by California voters in 1996.

As a result, county officials said they expect to address the issue of handing out medical marijuana identification cards as early as next month.

“The county Department of Health and Human Services is going to recommend that the board [of supervisors] issue the cards,” said Tom Bunton, San Diego County senior deputy counsel.

The county board of supervisors could hear the issue in June or sooner, Bunton said.

State law allows for a cost-recovery fee on the cards, but the county “can’t make a profit [by issuing them],” he said.

As an example, the Santa Barbara County Public Health Department currently charges between $80 and $161 to issue the identification cards.

Meanwhile, a medical marijuana facility called the Pacific Beach Collective opened at 929A Turquoise St. on May 11 to the dismay of several neighboring business owners and community members who say the facility will attract crime and illegal drug use to the neighborhood.

While residents and businesses in north Pacific Beach protest the dispensary, they may have to grin and bear it because marijuana used for medicinal purposes is legal under state law — specifically under Proposition 215 — which the U.S. Supreme Court declined to review last week.

The case represents a prime example of state’s rights issues because federal law prohibits the sale of medical marijuana.

Some Pacific Beach neighbors, however, are livid.

“I don’t see any positive aspects to it,” said Jack Story, a 20-year resident. “It’s probably not good for business.”

Story said many older folks in north Pacific Beach fear the store will attract crime and make people afraid to patronize nearby businesses.

And with Pacific Beach Elementary within walking distance, at least one parent fears the store might attract dangerous drug addicts to the area.

“It’s a necessary evil but we just don’t want it in our backyard,” said Dawna Deatrick, president of Friends of Pacific Beach Elementary School, a parent-teacher organization.Lenny Olsen, manager of the Pacific Beach Gardens at 910 Turquoise St., said there was no announcement about the facility.

There is no public noticing requirement for starting a dispensary, according to Pacific Beach Collective store managers. Olsen said he wants one.

“If I want to have an establishment to sell alcohol, I have to notify the community, but they can open up a medical marijuana store?” Olsen said. “How come they don’t have to notify [the public]?”

Olsen added that he doesn’t want his 10-month-old son exposed to a neighborhood culture that would “normalize” marijuana drug use.

While many in the neighborhood take issue with the store, the facility is protected under California law as a result of the voter-approved Proposition 215.

The Compassionate Use Act of 1996 legalized marijuana for seriously ill persons as long as they have a doctor’s recommendation, according to San Diego County Deputy District Attorney Steve Walter.

In 2004, the Medical Marijuana Program Act, Senate Bill 420, established a voluntary patient identification and registration system. While the intent of the regulations is to help patients in serious pain, many recreational drug users circumvent the law.

“Most people that voted for [Prop 215] were thinking of people who were gravely ill and marijuana was something to ease their pain … it’s unfortunate that there’s people that have taken it to the extreme and are ruining it for whom the law it was intended for,” Walter said.

Robert, 36, showed up at Pacific Beach Collective for different reasons on the store’s opening day. A Pacific Beach resident, Robert asked that his last name not be published.

Robert, a mixed martial arts instructor, said a series of knee operations and shoulder and other training injuries had left him in a lot of pain.

Robert said doctors prescribed him pharmaceutical painkillers that had addictive side effects and made him ill. Robert registered with the Pacific Beach Collective and can now legally acquire the medicine he needs.

Sean Grady, the dispensary’s treasurer, said he wants to dispel rumors that the store is a methadone dispensary clinic or needle exchange program.

He added that a plainclothes, unarmed security guard will monitor activity inside, along with a video camera security system.

“Hopefully, the community will see how we actually handle things and embrace us,” Grady said.

San Diego and Merced counties filed a civil court case in February of 2006 questioning the legality of dispensaries under federal law. Later that year, federal and county law officials cooperated to shut down approximately eight beach-area dispensaries and several others throughout the county, according to published reports.

Meanwhile, a movement to legalize and tax the federally controlled substance is underway.

Assembly member Tom Ammiano (D-San Francisco) introduced Assembly Bill 390 in February to regulate and tax the plant the same way the state regulates beer and liquor.

The pending legislation would generate up to $1.3 billion in revenue, according to Ammiano’s website.

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