Monday, 17 July, 2000, 15:52 GMT 16:52 UK
Authorities in San Francisco have unveiled a new scheme which will provide medicinal users of marijuana with ID cards protecting them from local prosecution.
With $25 and a doctor's note, people using the drug to alleviate pain from diseases such as multiple sclerosis and cancer, can get an official ID card.
"This represents another stone in the foundation we're building to make people recognise that cannabis is a legitimate medicinal agent," said District Attorney Terence Hallinan.
Although the plan will stop users being prosecuted locally, marijuana possession remains illegal under federal law.
But Mr Hallinan remains optimistic that the plan can, and will succeed.
"I'm not really worried we won't be able to work things out with the federal government," he said.
Californians voted to legalise marijuana for medical use in 1996, but the plans have been mired in legal disputes ever since.
The Office of National Drug Control Policy opposes such schemes, considering them as smoothing the path towards full legalisation.
But while federal opposition to marijuana use remains strong, there are signs that government arguments against states' allowing its use for medicinal reasons may be weakening.
Several other US states have also recently created similar schemes.
Jane Weirick, who uses marijuana to alleviate back pain, said the city's ID cards would "finally give us legitimacy."
"When I started taking cannabis, I was finally able to function, she said. "It was like night and day."
Mr Hallinan, who describes himself as "America's most progressive district attorney", has refused to carry out the US government's 'War on Drugs', favouring lenient sentences for minor drug offenders.
To get the card in San Francisco, a doctor must sign a form agreeing to monitor the patient's medical condition.
Any children wishing to apply will have to get parental approval.
The cards expire after two years, and make no mention of how users will obtain the drug.
Police officials have described the card system as an efficient way to distinguish medical users from recreational ones.
"This is a wonderful civics lesson that could only occur in a place like San Francisco," said Police Department Assistant Chief Prentice Sanders.
"We find that this is an orderly way to carry out the law and the will
of the people," he said.