New state and local government taxes imposed on cannabis sales since legalization in California at the beginning of this year has heralded a demand for medical marijuana identification cards.
Holders of pot ID cards are exempt from taxation for their purchases which can vary from 7 to 10 percent. Added to this expense is the state-imposed 3 percent sales tax.
The high demand for pot ID cards has created huge backlogs, with wait lists for appointments running into months of delay.
The state-issued medical marijuana ID card was created 14 years ago and can be acquired by medical pot users and qualified patient caregivers. However, since its creation in 2004, the ID card has never really gained much popularity.
The sudden resurgence in demand has been prompted by California’s state-imposed taxes since the legalization of pot on 1 January 2018 for all adults 21 years of age and older.
Marijuana ID cards are hard to get
The backlog of appointments is posing a problem for medical patients reliant on marijuana as they are probably the least able to afford the cost of the new taxes, says Sarah Shrader, chairperson of the Sonoma chapter of Americans for Safe Access. She says the new slew of taxes on cannabis means that many patients are now unable to afford their medication and are looking for ways to obtain discounts, such as the pot ID cards.
The state program is operated by county health departments.
Sonoma County says its next available appointment for the pot ID card is in June. According to a spokesman, Scott Alonso, there has been a huge increase in the number of calls for appointments and his health department is fully booked.
The Sonoma County health department has trained additional staff to handle the increase in demand and has also increased the number of daily appointments from four to six, says Alonso.
Medical marijuana patients and caregivers must provide the health department with proof of residence in Sonoma County, a letter of recommendation from a medical practitioner, and a completed application form. A payment for the ID card is also applicable.
How many pot ID cards have been issued ?
When demand for pot ID cards reached its peak in 2010, only about 12,700 were in circulation.
This figure has declined by 70 percent to less than 4,000 cardholders today in a state with a population of 40 million people.
Since the inception of pot ID cards in 2004:
—–> San Francisco has issued the largest number of all Californian counties — 23,068
—–> Los Angeles, on the other hand, which is a city with more than four times the population of San Francisco, has issued only 10,007 cards
—–> Sonoma County health officials have approved 2,419 cards and
—–> Mendocino County has issued 2,888 cards
Reasons why popularity of pot ID cards dwindled
Dale Gieringer, the state coordinator since 1987 of California NORML, the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws
One of the main reasons triggering a decline in applications for pot ID cards could be attributed to the fact that criminal penalties for possession of small amounts of marijuana were either eliminated or greatly reduced, according to Dale Gieringer, who is the coordinator of California NORML (National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws).
She also says that the popularity of the card was dependent on the ease or difficulties imposed by issuing county health departments.
Gieringer points out that pot ID cards were difficult to obtain and questioned what legal protection the card actually offered the holder.
Another reason for the decline in applications was that people have to provide information to a government agency about their personal marijuana consumption. Even now that California has legalized recreational pot, the plant is still regarded as an illegal substance by the Federal Government, a fact which instils fear into some applicants.
However, a California Department of Health spokeswoman says the ID card program was designed specifically with that concern in mind.
She says the department does not retain any personal identification records. The laminated card simply shows a picture of the person, an expiry date, and unique identification number. Law enforcement officers then use that unique number to verify the validity of the card and to ensure that it has not expired.
Alonso confirmed her statement, saying that the Sonoma county health department does not keep copies of applications. Staff members merely sent the recommending doctor’s medical license to the state for verification purposes.
What do pot ID cards cost ?
After providing state health departments with all the necessary documentation, pot ID cards will be issued at a cost stipulated by the county of residence.
In Sonoma County, a medical marijuana card costs $94, or $47 for people with Medi-Cal coverage.
In Orange County marijuana cards cost $84, or $42 for Medi-Cal patients.
In Mendocino County, a pot ID card costs $100, or $50 for Medi-Cal patients.
This same fee also applies in Santa Cruz, Santa Clara, and Sacramento.