Chronic City: Six Years Later -- San Diego, San Bernardino Counties Finally Issuing Medical Marijuana Cards

Courtesy Nirmal Thacker,
Not just for Marin County anymore
San Diego County finally issued its first medical Marijuana identification cards on Monday, and San Bernardino County will follow suit next month -- a full six years after being instructed to do so by the state legislature.

"We had to wait until all the legal matters were settled before implementing the program," Adrienne Collins Yancey of the San Diego County Health Department told local TV station KGTV. What "legal matters," you ask? Why the six-year delay?

Well, that would be because 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 San Diego and San Bernardino did nothing. Then, in 2006, the counties 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 disobeying federal drug laws, which they said preempted state laws. Their preemption argument was rejected by every court, at every single step of the legal process.

Sounds expensive, you say? Foolish and futile, even? Yeah, actually it does. But neither county seems to be saying much about the hefty expenses they undoubtedly incurred over the course of the needless three-year legal 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 might lead to some actual accountability for the nimrods in county government who made the decision to piss away thousands of dollars in a doomed attempt to avoid being dragged, kicking and screaming, into the 21st Century. We couldn't have that, could we?

Both San Diego and San Bernardino counties are charging $166 for the medical Marijuana ID cards, $83 if you're on MediCal. Answering complaints by some patients over the expense, Yancey of the San Diego County Health Department said $66 of the fee is sent to the state of California, and "the other $100 ... is kept here in San Diego to cover our expenses for the implementation of the program."

Hmm.... So, Adrienne? Does paying the legal bills the county spent fighting the implementation of the program count as part of your "expenses"?

Given the entrenched, hard-line anti-Marijuana mindset of law enforcement in San Diego County, medical Marijuana patients and activists there are still debating whether local drug agents will stop raiding storefronts and dispensaries in the county. The San Diego District Attorney's Office claims it's "just enforcing state law." But local activists say the DA is motivated by a rigid anti-pot ideology and often ignores the protections offered to medical Marijuana users.

Activists say the DA's office remains entrenched in the old-school law enforcement viewpoint that Marijuana is inherently dangerous and should be illegal in all cases. The San Diego County Board of Supervisors, which controls the purse strings of the DA's office, has held a consistently combative stance against the state on the medical Marijuana issue. In fact, the county's stubborn intransigence caught the eye of the Bush Administration, which praised the actions of the Board of Supervisors in fighting the implementation of California's medical Marijuana law.

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