By Michelle Fitzsimmons

While the Supreme Court ruled that a school principal could restrict “Bong Hits 4 Jesus,” the Santa Cruz Board of Supervisors approved the inception of statewide medicinal marijuana cards.

The Santa Cruz Board of Supervisors voted unanimously to make the switch from county to state cards for patients starting April 21. This carries important implications for medical marijuana users, extending the protection they receive in the county to almost everywhere in the state.

With the added protection will come a rise in cost, which worries supporters of the state card and medicinal-marijuana advocates.

Previously, local patients received a card allowing them to possess and use marijuana within Santa Cruz county lines. City officials hoped the card would protect patients when they traveled to other Californian counties, but the guarantee was uncertain.

Neal Coonerty, supervisor for District 3, said that Santa Cruz needed to provide more comprehensive protection for the patients of this county.

“We needed to make the switch,” Coonerty said, “so that Santa Cruz patients could use medicinal marijuana anywhere in the state without fear of fines or arrest.”

The Women and Men’s Alliance for Medical Marijuana (WAMM) of Santa Cruz and Leslie Goodfriend, the senior health services manager for Santa Cruz County, collaborated to bring the issue of statewide cards before the Board of Supervisors.

“Santa Cruz has had county cards since 2003,” Goodfriend said. “Since Santa Cruz has always been supportive of medical marijuana, we felt it was appropriate to adopt statewide cards.”

Proposition 215 made medical marijuana legal in the state of California in 1996. The bill stipulates that a patient needs only a hard copy of their doctor’s recommendation in order to be protected from prosecution.

“Many law enforcement agencies did not honor the recommendation as valid proof,” said Alex Coffman, a Santa Barbara-based representative of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML).

In 2003, the state legislature passed Prop. 420, which requires every patient to be issued an official card that states they may legally use marijuana.

“The cards are part of a bureaucratic attempt to regulate [medicinal marijuana],”

Coffman said. “The current law still says that you only need a doctor’s recommendation, but police didn’t honor that and were taking patients’ medicine and taking them to court, only to have their cases thrown out because what the patients were doing was legal.”

When the card program was adopted, it was done on a county-by-county basis. The main motivation for creating the card program was to avoid problems from the federal government, Goodfriend said.

Policy change brings an increase in price of the card. Some activists, like Goodfriend, are concerned that those seeking medicinal marijuana will be deterred from pursuing a recommendation due to the $101 registration fee, an increase of almost $80 from the county cards.

“I predict that fewer patients will apply for a card,” Goodfriend said.

More frequent renewals will also be part of the switch.

Originally, a doctor could recommend the use of medical marijuana for one to three years before the local card faced renewal, Goodfriend said. The new state card, on the other hand, lasts one year before renewal, she said.

“We’ll have to see if the number of applicants drops,” Goodfriend said. “And if it does, some more changes will have to be made.”