For the last three years, Maria de la Luz Madrigal has suffered from severe rheumatoid arthritis, so severe that pain and swelling in the joints has complicated her everyday life.
Even dressing up hurts," said Madrigal. "The pain medicine works, but I run the risk of damaging my kidneys."
Madrigal, 54, is one of 31 million Americans who suffer from some type of arthritis which limits movement. Most receive medical treatment through doctors, but some self-medicate, using marijuana as the last resource for various reasons.
Until recently, patients that see marijuana as the "best medicine" available were subject to arrest and faced criminal charges punishable with jail. But last week, the San Bernardino County Board of Supervisors ended a three-year-old battle by approving an identification card system for medical marijuana users.
The decision came after the U.S. Supreme Court on May 18 rejected the county's appeal based on the argument that federal law outlaws marijuana possession and use under any circumstance, which is in direct conflict with state law that allows persons to grow, use and possess marijuana in limited quantities in certain regions.
Now, patients can start receiving their IDs within 45 days after a rigorous background check, officials said. Patients will have to fill out an application with the proper documentation at the Public Health Department. From there, the information will be transferred to the state for a final review.
Some opponents of IDs for marijuana patients argue that officers would have a dilemma when trying to enforce the law.
Frank Marino, a youth outreach volunteer with the Inland Valley Drug Free Community Coalition, said that the "county simply ran out of options" and that they were able to keep pot cards out for a very long time "and for that, the communities are grateful."
The county's decision to now issue pot ID cards in no way forces the countless inland empire cities to allow for pot shops. These cities have already banned dispensaries and although the pro-pot groups will protest at cities to allow for pot shops, cities are bound by the law and may not authorize the operation of dispensaries, or even cooperatives or collectives, for the purpose of cultivating or distributing marijuana for medical purposes," said Marino.
Since distribution of marijuana violates federal law, whether in a dispensary, cooperative or collective, passing a zoning ordinance which, for example, only allows such operations to be conducted in the industrial or commercial zone of a city, would still be in violation of the laws of the United States and, therefore, prohibited under G.C. 37100," he said.
However, medical marijuana advocates see the announcement as a great victory.
We are happy with the decision, but frustrated that it took so long and it cost taxpayers so much money. The lives of patients will be so much simpler and safer now," said Bruce Mirken, spokesman for the Washington D.C.-based Marijuana Policy Project ( MPP ). "There will be no reason to get arrested if a person verifies that he or she is a marijuana medical user. Voters approved this in 1996, but counties such as San Bernardino frivolously spent money before enforcing the law."
In fact, in 1996 California voters approved Proposition 215, which allowed people to obtain marijuana for medical purposes with a physician's approval. That led to a 2003 Legislature decision to provide legal guidance to medical marijuana users and dispensaries opening under Senate Bill 420.
However, Marino argued that California voters "were fooled" into thinking that the law only applied to terminal ill patients.
We have learned otherwise, as anybody can get pot for any condition, whatsoever, including hair loss, itchy skin, depression or whatever," said Marino. "We are finding lots of kids getting pot from dispensaries and selling it to other kids. In Los Angeles alone, there are more than 600 pot stores, sometimes four at an intersection. They don't have that many Starbucks in Los Angeles."
Proponents of medical marijuana usage have pointed to some medical studies indicating that cannabis can be used to treat a wide range of diseases and muscle-skeletal disorders and that it has been used in Western medicine since the 1700s.
But opponents of medical marijuana say other studies show that marijuana is generally not effective at reducing pain.
Worldwide, the use of cannabis is legal in a limited number of territories, including Canada, Austria, the Netherlands, Spain, Israel, Finland and Portugal. In the United States, states that have recognized medical marijuana include Alaska, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Illinois, Maine, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Washington.
Madrigal can't wait to receive her identification that qualifies her as a legal marijuana user.
I have done my homework and I know it works, regardless of what pharmaceutical firms or coalitions tell me," said Madrigal.