If state officials have their way, the California Medical Marijuana Identification Card (MMIC) program will disappear.
The cards are not mentioned in recent proposed state regulations for the medical pot industry, and legislation put forth by the office of Gov. Jerry Brown would end the documents. "There is currently a legislative proposal that would delete the requirement for state-issued medicinal ID cards," according to an email from the California Department of Public Health, which overseas the MMIC program.
The IDs were prized by some medical marijuana patients, particularly older ones who did not want any doubt about their status if they were stopped by cops. Leading marijuana attorney Bruce Margolin told L.A. Weekly previously that the cards were like cop kryptonite, able to fend off most police inquiries about marijuana possession.
But a fact sheet on the governor's legislation says that eight out of 10 medical patients forego the cards, which cost $153 in L.A. County, in favor of a piece of paper known as the doctor's recommendation. And Proposition 64, passed by statewide voters in November, says that anyone 21 or older can possess up to one ounce of weed without fear of arrest. "Proposition 64 changes the ballgame in that regard," says Dale Gieringer, state coordinator of California NORML.
Gieringer says a doctor's recommendation is sufficient to get a tax break for medical marijuana that went into effect following recreational legalization. (UPDATE, May 22: Gierenger says he's "no longer sure" that a doctor's recommendation will be sufficient for the tax break if IDs are phased out. The governor's recommendations for medical pot regulation say that a patient must present "his or her card issued under physician’s recommendation" in order to receive the discount.)
While the MMICs are state-backed, they're issued by county governments. In Los Angeles County, patients who applied for the IDs, which include a photo, had seen months-long waits to get them in years past. "It was totally inconvenient to get an ID card in L.A. County," Gieringer says.
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Today the L.A. County Department of Public Health says the wait time for an appointment to apply for a card is two days and that "card issuance can take up to 30 days" after that, "depending on when the doctor verifies," according to an email from the department.
Proposed regulations for the medical marijuana industry, which would still have to be reconciled with gubernatorial legislation to merge medical and recreational rules, could have state officials tracking the purchases of patients. The proposed rules would create "patient identification numbers." The fact sheet on the consolidation language notes that the current MMICs "contain no identifying information other than a photo and the name of the county from which it was obtained."
The legislation would still allow counties to issue their own medical ID cards if they so desire, according to the fact sheet. Attorney Aaron Herzberg, a partner at marijuana real estate firm CalCann Holdings, Inc., thinks the end of state-issued cards will be welcome by most medical customers.
"It's so easy to get a doctor's recommendation — why go to the expense of getting a card," he says. "Doctor's recommendations have become the standard."