Law Enforcement Against Prohibition 7

FROM $83 TO $166
by Leo E. Laurence, J.D.,
Law Enforcement Against Prohibition

Senior, local, law enforcement officers have revealed to me that police and deputies will soon, gradually and unofficially, recognize and only accept medical marijuana (MMJ) cards issued by the state, but administered by the county. Privately produced MMJ cards issued by doctors are sometimes crudely made and easily counterfeited (a major reason why officers reject them). Indeed, counterfeit money and passports are easily available from street sources, so the MMJ cards are a piece of cake for counterfeiters.

Are they needed? –Maybe not. If you only consume MMJ in the privacy of your home, you don’t have to worry about running into a law enforcement officer. But, if you smoke in public and an officer sees you, probable cause exists to stop you because the recreational use of cannabis is still unlawful. On the other hand, you might avoid a citation for smoking a joint if you have a MMJ card showing that you’re a MMJ patient. Robert Santos, a field reporter with KGTV-Ch.10 News, did a ride-along in a Chula Vista police, patrol car.  On camera, Ch.10 News recorded the stopping of a car driven by two teenagers. The vehicle was stopped because the driver appeared to be using a cell phone while driving, a violation of motor vehicle laws.

After stopping the car, the officer discovered that the driver was actually legally using a hands-free cell phone device. But, the officer smelled marijuana through the open window as he was interrogating the driver. The teenage driver and his young passenger were both carrying current MMJ cards issued by a doctor. Later, on camera, the Chula Vista police officer explained to reporter Santos that the vehicle’s occupants were complying with the law and released them without a citation. Both students in the vehicle were polite and respectful when answering the police officer’s questions, which also influenced the officer’s decision to release them. The officer let the two teenagers go based solely on the MMJ cards that were issued by a private doctor; however, word from confidential, local, law enforcement sources is that those privately issued cards may soon NOT be acceptable evidence that the holder is a legal, medical marijuana patient.

Last year, while the possession of a single joint was still classified as a misdemeanor, allowing an arresting officer to take you to jail, the former governor signed legislation that reduces the possession of less than an ounce of marijuana to a citation. It’s like a traffic ticket, where a small fine can be paid with no jail time. But, confidential information provided to L.E.A.P. states that officers may soon only accept the official cards issued by the state and processed by the County of San Diego in order to avoid a citation.

The State of California issues photo ID cards that identify the holder as a medical marijuana patient. These official cards are administered and processed by the County of San Diego from its Office of Vital Records at 3851 Rosecrans (Ste. 802) near the Pt. Loma area. The county is doing a very poor job of educating its staff about these cards. Phone calls to five different county offices to learn which office processes the cards were unsuccessful. None of those county departments even knew that MMJ cards were processed by the county, let alone which office was responsible.

An applicant for the official card must first call that county office ([619] 757-4909) and make an appointment that lasts about 30-45 minutes, according to Donna Levatte, an employee of that office. To that meeting, an applicant must bring the following:

The original doctor’s letter certifying the applicant as a medical marijuana patient.
A government-issued photo ID.
Proof of residency in the county (for example, a utility bill).
Payment of $166 for a regular applicant, or $83 for a patient on Medi-Cal (Also provide that Medi-Cal card).

The state-issued MMJ card is good for one year from the date it is issued. And when Levatte was asked what the county fees covered, she was unable to answer the questions – she didn’t know.

Off-the-record reports from senior, local, law-enforcement officers to L.E.A.P. reveal that the privately issued medical marijuana cards may soon NOT be accepted by officers on the street, despite the fact that there are reportedly no guidelines provided to San Diego police officers on the subject.

The senior officer in the Media Relations Office at SDPD, Lt. Andra Brown, said (on-the-record) that the MMJ cards issued by the state and processed by the county are the only “legitimate” cards. She couldn’t define the word “legitimate” as it is used by SDPD, and she didn’t know how the issue might influence an arrest. When Lt. Brown was asked whether ONLY the county cards, and not the privately issued cards from doctors offices, would be acceptable by officers on the street in her department, she responded by only saying she was “not qualified to answer the question.” Well, who is? She referred me to Assistant Chief Cesar Solis (531-2708), but he did not return a phone call by our deadline, which requested clarification of his department’s official policies on the cards. Lt. Brown went off topic by saying, “Marijuana cards are a very complicated issue,” saying the city council and zoning departments were involved. But, she didn’t answer my questions, saying only that the “situation is very fluid.” Meanwhile, police officers in major cities in San Diego County are being provided with no official guidelines on how to deal with medical marijuana patients they encounter in the field.

Many city and county governments throughout Southern California (including Imperial County) are adopting local ordinances that are a virtual ban on medical marijuana dispensaries. They have no jurisdiction to enact those laws. Local governments cannot pick and choose which state laws to implement, and which to block from implementation. Many biased and uninformed politicians dislike anything connected to marijuana, and are eager to either adopt outright bans on dispensaries or place so many restrictions on the operation of a dispensary as to be a de facto ban. Our state constitution does not permit local governments to block the implementation of state laws that some uptight and uninformed politicians personally dislike.

“Hopefully, some of the attorneys working in the marijuana field will file a lawsuit prohibiting local governments from blocking the implementation of state law, authorizing medical marijuana in California,” said a community activist.

Current and former law enforcement officers, prosecutors, judges and state prison officers are invited to confidentially contact L.E.A.P. to assist in the medical marijuana crusade. Call (619) 757-4909 or email at

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