License to chill

Sac County supes come to their senses, approve state’s medical-marijuana ID card

For information on medial-marijuana laws, visit Americans for Safe Access at

Last week, the Sacramento County Board of Supervisors approved the use of the state’s medical-marijuana ID card in the county. There’s really no reason to thank them; the ID card was mandated by the state Legislature in 2003 and had already been approved by 42 out of the state’s 59 counties, including Fresno, for Christ’s sake. By not enacting it, the supervisors were thwarting the will of the electorate and the Legislature. Apparently, only the prospects of a lawsuit by medical-marijuana advocates convinced a majority of the supes to pass the ordinance 4-1.

So there’s really no reason to thank them. But then again, there’s no reason to blame them. Twelve years ago, I didn’t believe the seemingly grandiose claims of medicinal pot use, either.

Back in 1996, when proponents of Proposition 215, the Compassionate Use Act, were pushing for the legalization of medical marijuana in the state of California, I pegged them all for a bunch of stoners attempting to back-door the legalization of cannabis by tugging on the electorate’s heartstrings. This mainly had to do with the fact that most of the medical-marijuana advocates I encountered were stoners. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

At any rate, voters overwhelmingly approved Prop. 215, which permits the use of cannabis for treating “cancer, anorexia, AIDS, chronic pain, spasticity, glaucoma, arthritis, migraine or any other illness for which marijuana provides relief.” That’s a lot of territory, and I scoffed at the notion of marijuana as some sort of magic elixir, like the phony tinctures hawked by unprincipled hucksters in old-time medicine shows.

I didn’t see the light until after the Legislature passed Senate Bill 420, the bill authorizing the state ID card and the formation of medical-marijuana collectives and cooperatives where patients may go to get their medicine. At the time, I was working in Sonoma County, one of the first counties to enact the measure. Nevertheless, medical marijuana remained controversial there.

Since then, I’ve interviewed literally hundreds of medical-marijuana patients, and I can tell you that of all those people, I’ve encountered exactly one who had a dubious reason for his use, a 20-year-old who said his doctor had authorized the use of marijuana to treat muscle soreness from his gym workouts.


However, with that one exception, every patient I’ve ever interviewed suffered from sort of serious malady for which medical marijuana provided one of the few sources of relief. These conditions range from AIDS to cancer to traumatic injuries to serious mental disorders. A common thread running through their stories was the failure of Western medicine to provide the sort of relief they get from marijuana.

One of my most mistaken previous assumptions was the idea that because a person is young and dressed in hip-hop attire, he or she must be scamming the system. I presumed that was the case with the first young patient I interviewed, a college student who pulled up his sleeve and showed me the scar where he’d nearly severed his wrist in a restaurant kitchen accident.

The ID card is voluntary, and patients with a doctor’s recommendation aren’t required to have it to purchase medical marijuana at their local dispensary. Many patients aren’t keen on having their name listed in the state’s database, particularly considering that medical marijuana remains illegal under federal law.

However, the card is indispensable for patients who encounter local law enforcement, who’ve been known to arrest medical-marijuana users possessing only a doctor’s recommendation and confiscate their medicine. Courts generally excuse the patients, but not before they endure a significant amount of hassle. The ID card, which costs $166, is recognized by the Sacramento Police and County Sheriff’s departments and will put an end to such inconvenience.

Federal authorities remain a threat to both patients and medical-marijuana dispensaries. That may change after President-elect Barack Obama takes office. Obama has said in the past that he’d approve the use of medical marijuana federally, ending the persecution of the patients who can find no other source of relief.

Hope for change in medical-marijuana laws? If it should come to pass, we don’t necessarily have to thank Obama. But like the county supes, we can say better late than never.