Medical marijuana users in San Francisco may soon be carrying identification cards that could provide a measure of legal protection and greater peace of mind.
On Jan. 24, the city's Board of Supervisors approved a program under which patients who have a doctor's approval to use marijuana, and their caregivers, would receive an ID card issued by the city. San Francisco's Department of Public Health is likely to contract with an outside agency to administer the program, according to Wayne Justmann, a director of the San Francisco Patients Resource Center (SFPRC), a medical marijuana dispensary.
"We're thrilled by passage of the ordinance," said Justmann. "Many people have worked very hard to reach this point. A lot of activists want the city to use a designated outside group to run the program. That way, people who are skeptical won't be able to complain that tax dollars are supporting the use of marijuana."
Justmann, who is HIV positive and uses marijuana in combination with other medicines, has been a major player in the ID card ordinance and an imaginative battler in the cause. He is one of four directors of SFPRC, all of whom he modestly described as "patients with an idea." He told the San Francisco Chronicle that SFPRC is "the first group I know of in the United States to ask a city for the various permits that any legitimate business must have. We want official recognition."
To achieve that, Justmann and his colleagues have met with city planning officials, the fire department, sheriff's deputies, the local merchant's association and many of their neighbors. The center is applying for a nonprofit business license, and on Jan. 27, SFPRC finalized a lease for its space in the Hayes Valley neighborhood.
"A key issue for dispensaries is how to qualify patients," said Justmann. "It's very time-, money- and labor-intensive for every dispensary to do its own intake or registration. We're working to establish some uniformity in this process."
The ID card program would enable patients from any of San Francisco's medical marijuana dispensaries to avail themselves of the closest or most convenient club.
Justmann told the Chronicle that SFPRC's efforts to set up shop as a licensed nonprofit business have been "tough sledding. The hoops we've had to jump through to make this legal, I don't know if I'd advise the next people to do it."
Despite the hardships, Justmann was eager to sit down with the designated point person from the Department of Public Health. "We can't wait," he said. "We have patients who can't wait for medical cannabis." One of his co-directors, Gary Farnsworth, said the team at SFPRC was "very proud of what we've done so far. And we've been getting some great, encouraging phone calls from other cities. They want to learn about what we're doing."
Some medical marijuana and AIDS activists have expressed concerns about ID card programs, fearing the data could be misused by authorities.