County sets fee to process California medical marijuana cards

The Colusa County Board of Supervisors on Sept. 18 adopted an ordinance they didn’t want to adopt: the setting of a $100 fee to provide a public service mandated by the state that costs taxpayers about four times that in governmental administrative costs and overhead.

The ordinance, once it goes into effect, will allow the Colusa County Health and Human Services Department to recoup some of the cost associated with processing applications for California-issued medical marijuana identification cards.

Health and Human Services Director Elizabeth Kelly said she has no choice but to process the applications for medical marijuana users who want a state-issued identification card, because it’s mandated by the California Department of Public Health, even though the labor costs alone are more than what the county can recoup in fees.

The state has capped the fee for processing applications at $100 for most users. Medi-Cal recipients are eligible for the identification card for $50, and individuals participating in the County medical services program (indigent) are entitled to a full waiver.

“It’s going to cost my department about $195 in staff time just to perform the service,” Kelly said.

The ordinance implementing the new fees passed by a vote of 3-1, with Chairman Gary Evans dissenting, following a public hearing in which the public and county officials admitted to being “confused” as to the purpose of medical marijuana users having a state-issued card.

The ID cards have been available for more than a decade, with very little interest from the public, because a doctor’s recommendation to smoke pot for a variety of ailments has been sufficient to use the drug in California since the late 1990s.

However, both the county and the State of California could likely see an additional demand, now that recreational marijuana is legal, because the THC (the principal psychoactive constituent of cannabis that gets you high) potency levels now available in both medical and recreational marijuana products are at a stunning high, and according to online dispensaries marketing both lines of cannabis, having the state-issued medical card will get medical marijuana users a number of perks as opposed to recreational users.

“Medical marijuana is not taxed the same way as recreational marijuana, so this is just another way around the taxation,” said Colusa County Chief Administrative Officer Wendy Tyler.

According to a number of pro-marijuana websites, like MMJ Recs, an online “telemedicine” company that sells doctor recommendations, medical marijuana ID cards, and grower permits, having a California Medical Marijuana ID card gets marijuana users around a number of laws that affect recreational use.

Not only does the card allow cannabis users to avoid paying the full 15 percent sales and excise taxes on marijuana labeled “medicinal” when purchased from a dispensary, the ID card also lowers the usage age to 18 (as opposed to 21 for recreational cannabis use); allows medical marijuana users to possess, grow, transport and/or use more cannabis than is allowed recreationally; allows for uninterrupted medical marijuana purchases/deliveries when the card is renewed annually, and allows medical marijuana users access to a larger number of dispensaries with the most potent strains and concentrates, the website state.

However, medical marijuana users cannot “legally” deduct cannabis as a medical expense on their state income tax filing, as some county officials speculated, because marijuana is a controlled substance that is illegal under federal law, and the FDA does not consider marijuana medicine.

“A doctor’s recommendation is not the same as a prescription,” noted Supervisor Denise Carter, during the Sept. 18 discussion.

Kelly said the county has delayed implementing the program for at least a year, but the state has been pushing for her to get it up and running.

Still, Kelly said she did not expect a lot of Colusa County people to come in for a medical marijuana ID card, because of the cost and the administrative procedure they must go through.

Having an ID card is also strictly voluntary, she said.

“As of today, our department has not had any inquiries about this,” Kelly said. “Maybe there will be once this (ordinance) goes into effect.”

The fees for administrating the application process for a state-issued medical marijuana card will go into effect in about 30 days, officials said.