Department of Health Services Resumes Medical Marijuana ID Program
Department of Health Services officials on Monday reinstated a state medical marijuana identification card program, after receiving a letter from Attorney General Bill Lockyer's (D) office indicating that operators of the program will not be at risk for federal prosecution, the Los Angeles Times reports (Los Angeles Times, 7/19).
DHS officials on July 8 had announced that the program would be suspended while Lockyer reviewed the legal implications of the program. The U.S. Supreme Court last month ruled that state laws permitting marijuana use for medical purposes do not protect residents from prosecution under federal drug laws that prohibit marijuana (California Healthline, 7/11).
Jonathan Renner, deputy to Lockyer, on Friday sent a letter to DHS advising it to resume issuing the ID cards. Renner wrote, "We believe the federal government cannot enforce federal criminal laws against state officials who merely implement valid state law." Renner added, "A unilateral decision not to comply with state law, on the grounds that it may be prohibited by federal criminal law, without first receiving the guidance of an appellate court, is barred by the California Constitution."
However, Renner also wrote that information on holders of medical marijuana ID cards could be subpoenaed by federal prosecutors and used as evidence against patients. Renner agreed with a state suggestion that applicants be notified of this risk (Russell, San Francisco Chronicle, 7/19).
DHS spokesperson Ken August said the department "will be modifying the identification cards to inform users that medical marijuana remains a federal crime" because of agency concerns that federal authorities could subpoena information from the ID card program (Benson, Sacramento Bee, 7/19).
August added that he was unaware of federal agents requesting information on ID holders.
August said the program will resume immediately in Amador, Del Norte and Mendocino counties, where a pilot project has been in effect. The program is expected to be expanded statewide next month (Contra Costa Times, 7/19).
According to the Bee, DHS officials have asked the three counties where ID cards have been issued to inform card holders of the risk of federal prosecution (Sacramento Bee, 7/19).
KPBS' "KPBS News" on Monday reported on how the Drug Policy Alliance and the American Civil Liberties Union threatened to file a lawsuit if the ID card program had not been reinstated. The segment includes comments from Glenn Backes, director of health policy for DPA (Goldberg, "KPBS News," KPBS, 7/18). The complete transcript is available online. The complete segment is available online in RealPlayer.This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.