As an activist and educator within the San Diego medical marijuana community, I hear many rumors, myths, and just plain old crazy stories. There is so much information and misinformation about medical marijuana rights and laws. So many people try to educate themselves on the topic only to become more confused, or worse arrested.
Many people know that in order to legally obtain medical marijuana within the State of California you must obtain a valid recommendation from a doctor – either a Medical Doctor (M.D.) or Doctor of Osteopathy (D.O.). What some people do not realize, is that this recommendation will ONLY provide you with a valid defense in court. What does that mean? It means you have been arrested and now you are in court with either a public defender or you had to hire an attorney. Sound fun?
The recommendation is the first vital step to protecting your rights, but that is all it is, the first step. The next and most crucial step is going to your local county Department of Health Services and applying and obtaining a valid State issued identification card. The State card is much like a driver’s license in that it is issued by the State of California through local county offices. You do not go to Sacramento to get your license, you go to your local county DMV – the same holds true for the State issued medical marijuana card. The website for all of the criteria as to how to obtain one is available below, this article is here to explain why you need it.
1. But, I Already Have A Card From My Doctor
There are many doctors that will gladly furnish you with a recommendation and a card of their own. The plastic cards issued by the doctor are NOT State issued identification cards. They are nice, some nicer than others, but they will not prevent you from getting arrested – they will provide you with a valid defense in court. With nothing more than a recommendation you leave whether or not you are arrested to the full discretion of the officer. Some officers are nice, some are mean, some are educated about medical marijuana law, and some do not distinguish between medical marijuana and illicit substances. There is no reason to leave this discretion to a police officer. Protect yourself.
All State issued cards look exactly alike, just like a California driver’s license. An officer is required by law to verify your State card, whereas he or she is not required to verify your recommendation, whether it is a card with a 24 hour hotline or not. The State identification card is easier for law enforcement to identify as a legitimate card, and mandates that if you have a reasonable amount of medicine in your possession you are allowed to go home.
2. Big Brother IS NOT WATCHING
The most frequent excuse as to why many do not obtain a State card is the feared “database”. Nobody wants their name in a database that anybody can subpoena or tap into at any time. While I can give no guarantees as to anything in life, I can realistically assure you that nobody is tapping into this database. Why? If any government agency tried to obtain what are truly medical records without the consent of the patients – especially several hundred thousand patients - a lot more than just the medical marijuana community would be upset, and more important would sue.
Special interest groups that have nothing to do with medical marijuana, such as privacy groups, would be more than happy to sue the City, State, or whichever agency attempted to obtain these records. Throw on the patients whose rights are directly affected that would also sue, and you have a fiscal and political nightmare that neither the State of California nor the Federal government can presently afford.
3. Okay, But What Does the ID Card Do?
The identification card will PREVENT arrest. Say it with me now: PREVENT arrest. You are not in court, you do not have to hire an attorney, and you do not have to worry about anything (provided the amount of medical cannabis you have on your person is within the legal limits).
The most frequent place people run into trouble is in their vehicle, where your right to privacy is substantially diminished. If you are pulled over, have legal amounts of medicine in your possession, and your valid State ID card the officer must call the number, verify your card, and if you are verified send you home.
4. How do I get one in San Diego County?
Visit the County of San Diego Medical Marijuana Identification Card Program Website:
Call to make an appointment: 619-692-5723
• Just a recommendation - even a nice one on an official card from your doctor – it’s all up to the officer.
• Valid State issued identification card – the officer must verify you and send you on your way home.
• Be smart, be safe, be well.
 Recommendations are imperative and I strongly advise acquiring a recommendation that offers a 24 hour hotline for verification purposes. When the police use their discretion to call your doctor to verify only your recommendation, you want to make sure your recommendation can be verified at all times.