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San Mateo County, CA Seeks Means to Distribute Medical Marijuana


November-December 1997

Mike Nevin, a San Mateo County (CA) Supervisor, has proposed that the county assume the responsibility of obtaining and distributing marijuana for medical use through its hospital and health clinic pharmacies (Mark Simon, "San Mateo County-run dispensaries are proposed," San Francisco Chronicle, October 16, 1997, p. A17; Eve Mitchell, "Novel idea: use seized pot as medicine," San Francisco Examiner, October 16, 1997; Alan Gathright "Ex-cop pushes medicinal pot plan," San Jose Mercury News, November 17, 1997).

Nevin said that putting the county in charge of medical marijuana "would provide the best means of controlling distribution and ensuring that the needs of those who truly need to use marijuana for medical purposes are adequately met." He has proposed that the county use marijuana that has been seized by local law enforcement agencies and used as evidence in criminal trials. After the trials, the marijuana would be inspected to ensure that it is not contaminated. Nevin said, "Why should we give this responsibility to anybody other than government itself to carry out the unknowns of what is now law?"

County supervisors voted, 5-0, to form a committee to look at developing a pilot program. The preliminary plan includes registering patients and caregivers. Authorities are looking into whether there would be enough seized marijuana to provide adequate service. Officials are also deciding whether to charge for the marijuana. Nevin said he hoped to have the plan completed by January 1, where he would then take it to the state Legislature and ask for an emergency bill (Mark Adams, "County plan to offer contraband marijuana at clinics applauded," San Mateo County Times, November 22, 1997, p. A21; AP, "County seeks medical use of seized marijuana," New York Times, November 28, 1997, p. A28).

Joey Tranchina of the AIDS/Hepatitis Prevention Network in Redwood, CA expressed concern about the capacity of the supervisors to run the program and the ability of the program to ensure a fresh supply of the marijuana, with different strains available to meet individual needs. Dr. Vic Hernandez of CHAMP (Cannabis Helping to Alleviate Medical Problems), a cannabis buyers club in San Francisco said, "If you are looking at something as medicine, certain standards need to be established. I would caution people to look at where [the marijuana] came from."

Nevin's proposal was criticized by the state's Attorney General, Dan Lungren. Matt Ross, a spokesman for Lungren, said that the county, even through its medical staff, could not be viewed as a primary care provider, or the physician of record. "Once again this would still be a dispensary and we believe they are not legal under Proposition 215." However, Lungren called the concept of the county to issue identity cards to patients using medical marijuana "a far more enlightened approach than setting up a cannabis buyers club." The county counsel advised the county board of supervisors on November 11 to reject as illegal a request for a private cannabis club in the county (Alan Gathright, "Lungren Backs IDs for Pot Users," San Jose Mercury News, November 14, 1997). Internet discussions of the proposal are filled with fears of the government ID proposal.

Mike Nevins - 401 Marshall St., Redwood City, CA 90463; Tel: (650) 363-5472; Fax: (650) 599-1027.