CA Dept of Health Cuts Back Fee Hike for Medical Marijuana ID Cards

Feb 28th - 2007: The Cal Dept of Health Services has announced a significant cutback in its fee hike for state medical marijuana ID cards effective April 1st. Instead of charging $142 for its costs, the state will charge $66. The cutback was announced by Assemblyman Mark Leno, who thanked DHS Director Sandra Shewry for responding to public outcry against the increase.

The DHS had previously announced that it would be raising its charge for medical marijuana ID cards from $13 to $142 as of March 1st, 2007. Because counties charge additional fees for the cards, the total cost to patients would have been close to $200. California NORML strongly opposed the hike, arguing that it would make the card unaffordable and destroy the program. Under the revised increase, the fees will be closer to $100 (or $50 for MediCal patients).

The DHS ordered the fee hike in order to cover costs of the program. Registration in the state card system has run far below expectations. Only 8700 patients were enrolled as of January 2007, while the agency had been anticipating 150,000. Most of the state's counties have still not implemented the card program. Many are awaiting the outcome of a lawsuit by San Diego and San Bernardino, which have challenged its legality.

Advocates say that enrollment should pick up shortly after Los Angeles county begins issuing cards, which is expected to happen this March.

By law, the DHS is required to re-coup the costs of the ID program from patient fees. The DHS needs to pay off a $1 million loan that it used to pay for start-up costs. Medical marijuana advocates argue that the costs can be paid off under the new fee schedule proposed by DHS.

San Franciso Supervisor Ross Mirkarimi had proposed a resolution calling on the city to drop out of the state ID program if the full $142 fee hike were approved. San Francisco currently has more registrants in the state ID card system (3421) than any other county. The city's withdrawal would have threatened the state program with collapse.

Many patients have been reluctant to register in the state ID system out of fear of losing their privacy. However, California NORML regards these fears as overblown. Many other states have mandatory patient registrations systems, and no patients have been arrested by DEA as a result. Federal officials have repeatedly stated they have no interest in going after individual patients; they only have the manpower to focus on large-scale dealers.

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