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California Suspends Medical Pot Card Program

Associated Press, July 8, 2005

by Lisa Leff, AP

SAN FRANCISCO - Citing uncertainty prompted by a recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling, California health officials suspended a program on Friday that had begun providing patients who smoke marijuana for medicinal reasons with state-issued identification cards.

State Health Director Sandra Shewry has asked the state Attorney General's office to review the court ruling to determine whether the ID program would put patients and state employees at risk of federal prosecution.

"I am concerned about unintended potential consequences of issuing medical marijuana ID cards that could affect medical marijuana users, their families and staff of the California Department of Health Services," Shewry said.

A spokeswoman for Attorney General Bill Lockyer did not immediately return a call seeking comment.

Last month, the U.S. Supreme Court said in a 6-3 decision that people who smoke marijuana because their doctors recommend it to ease pain or other conditions can be prosecuted for violating federal drug laws. The ruling did not strike down laws in California and nine other states that permit medical cannabis use, but said federal drug laws take precedence.

The state health department in May launched a pilot pot card program in three Northern California counties - Amador, Del Norte and Mendocino. One purpose of the cards is to give medical pot users a way to show they have a legitimate reason for possessing pot if they are stopped by law enforcement.

So far, cards have been issued to 123 people under the pilot program, which was due to expand statewide by the end of the summer. Following Friday's move, officials in the three counties already issuing the cards were told not to process any more applications. The health department also has postponed processing requests from other counties that wanted to start issuing the cards.

Other counties and cities that issue their own cards, such as San Francisco, are unaffected by the state's action.

Besides being worried that state or local government workers could be charged with aiding and abetting individuals in committing federal crimes, Shewry said she was concerned that information gathered to produce the cards might be seized by federal authorities to identify and prosecute medical marijuana patients.

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