CA State Patient ID Cards

UPDATE 9/9/2016: With the passage of Prop. 64, qualified patients or their primary caregivers will be exempted from retail sales tax on medical cannabis if they present a valid Medical Marijuana Identification Card issued by the California Department of Public Health at the time of purchase.

Enrollment in the CA state ID program is voluntary.

Under state law SB (Senate Bill) 420, state ID cards afford legal protection from marijuana charges for patients and caregivers acting in compliance with guidelines spelled out in SB 420. All of Califoria's 58 counties except Sutter and Colusa have implemented ID card programs. Patients and caregivers can apply for the card from their county health department. Although we fought hard to keep the ID program voluntary, California NORML's advice to patients is that they will probably be safer from arrest if they enroll in the state ID program.

The state ID card system has safeguards to protect patient privacy. Patient names and addresses are not kept in the state's data base: the only information retained is a personal photo and ID number.

Patients need not enroll in the CA state program to enjoy legal status as Prop. 215 patients (all that is required under Prop 215 is a valid physician's recommendation or approval). Many doctors are now offering cards with 24-hour verification.

Patients who cannot or wish not to get state ID cards may get identification cards from other, privately run agencies. The longest established private card program in the state is run by the Patient ID Center, with offices in Oakland (510-832-5346: info@patientidcenter.org). OCBC cards are available to any resident in California. They are officially recognized by police in Oakland and some other cities, as well as by private providers throughout the state. However, they do not afford the same legal protection as state cards.

Some patients have expressed fear that registering with the state program could expose them to federal arrest, since the DEA might try to subpoena their records. California NORML believes this danger is overblown. A number of states, including Oregon, Hawaii and Colorado, have mandatory registration systems, but the DEA has never sought to subpoena their records.

The DEA has repeatedly stated that it is not interested in pursuing individual patients. To date, thousands of patient records have fallen into the DEA's hands in the course of raids on medical cannabis clubs and clinics, but no patient has been arrested as a result. (However, there was an unconfirmed report in 2008 of the DEA visiting a patient in Los Angeles who had records at two different clubs.) Also, citizen action groups in Northern counties have taken complaints from patients who have signed up for county cards and subsequenty received visits from county employees or had helicopter overflights. However, those in Southern (larger) counties generally report the program is working fine.

If you have had a county or law enforcement official tell you that they are not recognizing your medical marijuana ID card, or your doctor's recommendation, please record the name of the official, the date and time the event occurred and send pertinent details to California NORML. (You may do so anonymously if desired.) Consider filing a formal complaint to the agency involved, which would have much more impact. Keep CaNORML advised of any complaints filed, or of other issues you may have about the program.