Supes not high on issuing IDs
On Monday (Feb. 26), Dan Whittle walked into the living room of his small house in south Chico to find his roommate “flopping around, convulsing” on the floor in a violent seizure.
The next day, Whittle was in Oroville addressing the Butte County Board of Supervisors during a public hearing on the issuance of medical-marijuana identification cards. His roommate, Terry McGowan, wanted to attend the meeting with him, but he was still recovering at Enloe Medical Center.
McGowan is a frail man who smiles when he tells stories of being in the Navy or riding his bike to Enloe to “see the cancer doctor.” He has temporal lobe epilepsy, and the ravages of skin cancer are visible on his right cheek. Whittle is his paid in-home caregiver.
The best drug to help him cope with the seizures as well as the skin cancer, McGowan says, is marijuana. He has a doctor’s recommendation to use the drug.
On Nov. 11, 2006, Chico police arrested Whittle for cultivating marijuana in his and McGowan’s back yard. Whittle says he abided by state law and should not have been arrested.
“Not only being his caregiver through In-Home Supportive Services, I provide housing, health and safety [for McGowan],” Whittle said. “I thought I was well within the caregiver guidelines set up by the state in Proposition 215.”
Not only did the cops arrest Whittle, they also seized McGowan’s medicine.
“They took this sick guy, who has cancer—they took his medicine,” Whittle said in disbelief. When he spoke at the hearing, he explained his situation and noted that, had he possessed a medical-marijuana ID, he wouldn’t have been arrested.
Unfortunately for Whittle, he is now $5,000 in debt for attorney’s fees.
Medical marijuana has been legal since 1996, when 56 percent of California voters passed the Compassionate Use Act, or Prop 215, allowing patients to use marijuana with a doctor’s recommendation, said Aaron Smith of Americans for Safe Access, who adds that today polls show 75 percent of California voters approve of medical marijuana.
Apparently two county supervisors are among the 25 percent who do not.
District 2 Supervisor Jane Dolan opened the public hearing by describing it as being about the issuance of a “certain ID card,” adding, “The less said about this, the better—sorry, that’s my personal opinion.”
District 4 Supervisor Curt Josiassen compared the matter to approving a strip club, a comment that upset one med-pot patient enough to cause him to yell out in protest from the back of chambers.
Strongest support for the cards came from law enforcement. Assistant District Attorney Francisco Zarate and Sheriff Perry Reniff both told the supervisors that county resources were being wasted by arresting and investigating med-pot patients.
“It [the medical-marijuana ID card] saves my people hundreds and hundreds of hours,” Reniff said.
Ultimately the board passed the ordinance, 3-2, after District 3 Supervisor Maureen Kirk moved to approve, stating it would be “fiscally conservative.” The county now has 30 days to implement the program.
Kirk was joined by Dolan and Oroville-area Supervisor Bill Connelly, who stated that, while he didn’t approve of medical marijuana, he agreed with Kirk that money would be saved and “it would be a useful tool for law enforcement.” The Paradise area’s Kim Yamaguchi cast the other “no” vote.
The cost of an ID card will be $187.15, with $142 going to the state, which has increased the cost from $13 effective today (March 1).
Assemblyman Mark Leno (D-San Francisco) authored the Medical Marijuana Identification Card Program, or SB 420, in December 2003.
“This program gives medical-marijuana patients who are following a course of therapy as recommended by their doctor the peace of mind that they will be protected from mistaken arrest or detainment by law enforcement,” Leno said in a press release.
But he cautioned that the stiff fee is counter-productive: “Raising the fee to enroll in this optional program to an untenable level dooms the state program to failure and undermines safety to patients who are already suffering.”