potlede.jpgThe city issues fewer and fewer medical marijuana ID cards every year. But that doesn’t mean less and less people are using medical marijuana.

Five years ago, the San Francisco Department of Public Health issued 8,000 medical marijuana ID cardsoptional city-issued identification, with the county seal, for people who already possess a physician’s statement recommending the use of medical marijuana to treat an ailment (it is that doctor’s recommendation that allows one to legally possess, grow or transport marijuana under Proposition 215). During fiscal year 2009-2010, DPH issued 2,978 cards, according to records — continuing a downward trend. DPH issued 3126 in 2008-2009, and 3,426 in 2007-2008, records show.

Getting a card carries an additional expense of $103 on top of the cost of a doctor’s visit for a recommendation, which generally runs $80 and up (though doctors advertising the ability to “Get Legal!” for $60 or so can be found). You don’t need a card to visit a dispensary — a copy of a doctor’s recommendation will do.

DPH isn’t losing money because of this trend, mostly because it never made any money to begin with: the city has to pay the state’s Department of Human Services a fee for every card issued, meaning the city nets $19 for every card issued to a Medi-Cal holder, and $37 for a non-Medi-Cal card. The split is roughly half-and-half, with 1,461 Medi-Cal patients issued cards and 1,517 cards issued to folks off of the public option. That’s a total of $77,759, or barely enough to pay the salary of the clerk at SF General Hospital who handles the card requests.

Unfamiliar readers may ask: if you don’t *need* a county-issued ID card, why would you plunk down the $103 to get one?

“If you want to have a credential that’s easily recognizable anywhere, especially by law enforcement,” said David Goldman, who heads the San Francisco chapter of Americans for Safe Access, a patient advocacy group. Goldman himself has yet to have the pleasure of showing a cop his card — “if you can call it a pleasure” — but knowing that he is so credentialed provides invaluable peace of mind.

How many medical marijuana patients are there in San Francisco, then? Who knows: despite rumors of a “list” existing somewhere, probably in the desk of the Illuminati right next to the next reel of the Zapruder film, neither doctors issuing recommendations nor cannabis patients are under any obligation to report these statistics to anyone. So any guess would be just that, a guess.

That there are fewer and fewer cards out there “probably has a lot to do with economic conditions, but also with patient education,” Goldman reckons. “The card is purely optional, and more and more patients are informed of that.”

Of course, if you don’t have a way of getting your recommendation verified 24/7, you run the risk of spending a weekend in jail if you’re picked up on a Friday night, and your doctor’s office is closed when law enforcement calls it seeking to verify the recommendation.

And one wonders: with the economy still sluggish, and the $103 card utterly optional, will even fewer people sign up? Maybe if it came with a free sandwich, or 10 percent discounts at Toy Boat. Love those ice cream sandwiches.

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