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Monday, September 8, 2008

Medical marijuana loophole could let patients extend doctor recommendation

The Eureka Reporter

A loophole in the first-ever medicinal marijuana guidelines issued by California Attorney General Jerry Brown last month opens the door for patients using medicinal marijuana to extend their doctor’s recommendation without the doctor knowing it.

A physician’s recommendation will grant a patient access to medicinal marijuana, as will a state-issued card. However, the guidelines do not

specify that the two must be issued at the same time.

This could pose a problem for medical marijuana dispensaries trying to act in accordance with the guidelines and the law.

“The way I see it, someone could get a doctor’s recommendation for 12 months in January, and get the card for 12 months that December,” said Mariellen Jurkovich, director of the Humboldt Patient Resource Center. “The card should be issued along with the recommendation, and it’s a quirk in the system.”

Jurkovich added that she was reluctant to accept state cards, knowing they could be valid after the physician’s recommendation expires. “If the card is valid one day after the recommendation expires, then I’m acting outside the law, and I don’t want to do that.”

In order to obtain a state-issued card, a person must have their physician make a recommendation (which by itself is enough proof at a dispensary) and then take that recommendation to the county department of health. From there, the county has 30 days to verify the information about the patient with the physician. That information goes to the state Health Department, which then issues the card and sends it to the county department.

With a recommendation, a patient may go to a medical marijuana dispensary or cooperative to receive medicinal marijuana.

The physician decides how long the recommendation will last, which dictates the amount of a time a person may purchase medicinal marijuana.

To avoid arrest or legal ramifications from possessing medicinal marijuana, Humboldt County Department of Health and Human Services recommends patients using medicinal marijuana carry a state-issued card as proof.

The card is valid for one year from the date it’s issued, according to Proposition 420, and shows a doctor’s recommendation was given. This applies to law enforcement and at dispensaries. However, a patient does not have to apply for the card when they get their doctor’s recommendation.

This has raised concerns for people like Jurkovich, who said she does not want to give someone the medicinal marijuana unless they have a legitimate doctor’s recommendation, and because of this system, she said she feels the card does not necessarily prove that.

The Attorney General’s Office, which issued these guidelines, acknowledged that it is possible to apply for the card any time in the window of a doctor’s recommendation, “but we don’t recommend that,” said Christine Gasparac, of the Attorney General’s Office.

She said if a staff member saw that, they would follow up to make sure the person gets their physician to extend the recommendation.

Lea Brooks, spokesperson for the California Department of Public Health, said no one has control over whether someone applies for the card in a timely manner.

While acknowledging that there is probably a good reason why the guidelines are the way they are, Jurkovich said she has some suggestions on how to improve the system.

She suggested developing a system in which doctors could issue the cards directly, with a unified system or seal to put on the card, so it would coincide with the time of the recommendation.

Her other suggestion is to make sure that the card matches the length of the prescription, however long it is. If someone decides to get the card after they get the prescription, the state health department could prorate the cost to accommodate the number of months.

“(The state card and doctor’s recommendation) not matching is the only part I’m not comfortable with,” Jurkovich said about the guidelines in general. “I would just really like for the state card to go along with the recommendation.”

(Ashley Mackin can be reached at or 707-269-7436.)

In order to qualify for medicinal marijuana, a patient must have a “serious medical condition.” According to the California Health and Safety Code, the following are serious medical conditions:

+ Anorexia
+ Arthritis
+ Cachexia
+ Cancer
+ Chronic pain
+ Glaucoma
+ Migraines
+ Persistent muscle spasms, such as those associated with seizures
+ Severe nausea
+ Any other condition that limits a person’s ability to conduct major activities