ID cards for medical marijuana users off to slow start in county

In spite of similar overall populations, only a fraction of patients have signed up for medical marijuana cards in San Mateo County when compared with San Francisco, leaving health official to wonder why.

Since January, when both jurisdictions began taking applications for state-issued cards, only 445 patients have received IDs from San Mateo County, while 2,903 have received IDs from The City, the latest records from both counties show.

The large disparity may be attributed to a couple of different factors. “San Francisco has had an established ID card program for a number of years, so it’s possible some San Mateo County residents still have cards that were issued in San Francisco that haven’t expired,” said John Conley, deputy public health director for San Mateo County.

If that’s the case, San Mateo County could see a large increase in its number of applicants as the San Francisco-issued cards expire in the coming year, Conley said. An estimated 5,238 valid city of SanFrancisco cards are still in circulation and will be replaced by a voluntary state-issued card as they expire, according to Eileen Shields, spokeswoman for the San Francisco Department of Public Health.

The large number of cannabis dispensaries in The City, estimated at 28 by city planners, may also make applying for a card there more convenient, Conley said. San Mateo County has no registered dispensaries.

Citing privacy concerns, many patients also tout The City’s records retention policy as a draw. Only applicants’ photo and the ID expiration date are kept on record in San Francisco; no name, no address, officials said. “San Francisco has the gold standard ID card program,” said William Dolphin, spokesman for Oakland-based Americans for Safe Access.

San Mateo, on the other hand, keeps the entire application, including photo, name, address and doctor’s note, Conley said. While the federal government hasn’t seized records from any county, it’s not beyond the realm of possibility, Conley said. “We’ve had a couple of people here choose not to apply when they learn which records we keep.”

Both Dolphin and Dale Gieringer, director of the California branch of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, said implementation of the ID statewide has been slower than expected.

ecarpenter@examiner.com

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