Medical Pot Backers Say Measure Will Fix Flaws
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Medical Pot Backers Say Measure Will Fix Flaws
Posted by CN Staff on September 30, 2010 at 06:09:29 PT
By Peter Korn
Source: Portland Tribune
Oregon -- There may not be much about Oregon’s medical marijuana laws on which John Sajo and Josh Marquis agree, but there’s this: The state’s medical marijuana program needs fixing.Sajo is a co-author of Ballot Measure 74, which he says will provide much of that fix. Marquis, the Clatsop County district attorney, thinks 74 would make an even greater mess of the medical marijuana program. If passed by voters, the measure would, in Marquis’ words, “kick the door open to commercial marijuana distribution in Oregon.”
They both may be right.First the problems. Medical marijuana advocates such as Sajo, executive director of pro-marijuana organization Voter Power, say as many as half of the state’s nearly 40,000 cardholders have trouble consistently getting the cannabis they are entitled to for pain relief. That’s because the initial ballot measure that established medical marijuana in Oregon, passed in 1998, gave cardholders the right to grow their own or designate a grower for them.But in a bit of fanciful thinking, the authors of the original ballot measure established that Oregon marijuana growers couldn’t be paid for the cannabis they supply to cardholders.Which, law enforcement officials say, is one of the reasons for what they see as a second fundamental problem with the existing medical marijuana program – its ability to provide cover for marijuana growers who are illegally supplying the black market. Many of those suppliers, they say, are growing large black market crops, but are kept beyond the reach of law enforcement because they can show they have been designated as legal growers by medical marijuana cardholders.Measure 74 would take care of the medical marijuana supply problem by allowing privately run medical marijuana dispensaries to become established throughout the state. These dispensaries, or shops, would sell marijuana to cardholders, and get their marijuana from state-licensed marijuana growers.In addition, Measure 74 would direct the state to set up a system in which low-income medical marijuana cardholders could get access to reduced-price cannabis. Also, the measure authorizes state officials to fund research on medical marijuana.The measure, however, does not specify how much revenue the state must apportion to those two efforts. Measure supporters have estimated that the revenue from the program (growers and dispensaries will have license fees and pay 10 percent of their income to the state) could bring $20 million into state coffers each year. Out of that, the health department would take money to run the program; the rest could return to the state general fund.State health officials have estimated that, if Measure 74 passes, there might be as many as 246 dispensaries around the state within four years. But both supporters and detractors of the ballot measure agree that nobody really knows what the landscape will look like. And that is one of the main points of contention about the measure.Law enforcement officials point to California, where vaguely worded legislation allowed more than 800 loosely regulated medical marijuana dispensaries to flourish in Los Angeles County alone. But there is also danger in having too few dispensaries, Sajo says.In New Mexico, only about a dozen dispensaries have been licensed, and Sajo says each of those shops sells its entire stock of medical marijuana as soon as it is announced for sale, leaving many cardholders without access to cannabis.There’s little likelihood a Los Angeles-style environment could happen in Oregon, Sajo says.“The idea that there will just be a proliferation of fly-by-night operations is unfounded,” Sajo says. “If they (state health authorities) make rules tough enough, that will inherently limit the number.”Growers and dispensaries will be required to record their transactions, which will be reviewed by the state Department of Human Services public health division, which also will oversee the program.“To presume there’s going to be too many and they will be out of control, causing problems, assumes the health department is going to be asleep at the wheel,” Sajo says.In Sajo’s view, Measure 74 finally brings the state oversight to the medical marijuana program that law enforcement officials have been seeking.“We think law enforcement should like this proposal,” he says.But they don’t. The associations representing the state’s sheriffs, chiefs of police and district attorneys all formally oppose Measure 74.The health department doesn’t have the means or experience to oversee dispensaries and legal growers, but that’s exactly what it would have to do, Marquis says.Establishing and overseeing dispensaries and growers involves a number of judgment calls and a great deal of monitoring that isn’t spelled out in the ballot measure. For example, the measure doesn’t say how many dispensaries and marijuana farms will be allowed, or exactly where they will be placed, beyond the fact that they cannot be within 1,000 feet of a school or in a residential neighborhood.In Marquis’ view, having state health authorities responsible for oversight makes no sense. Much of what they would need to do, he says, such as ensuring that members of organized crime are not involved in growing or selling medical marijuana, needs to be done by law enforcement.But Measure 74 does not give law enforcement any role in overseeing the medical marijuana program. And the oversight task would be such a large one, Marquis says, that if health authorities did a thorough job, the promised state revenues wouldn’t add up to much at all.“If DHS were to actually do that, the $20 million would vanish in a nanosecond,” Marquis says.One thing Oregon voters are unlikely to see in the weeks leading up to the Nov. 2 Election Day is an abundance of advertising on the medical marijuana measure. Ohio billionaire Peter Lewis has been the major financial backer of pro-marijuana efforts nationwide, and contributed $12,800. But Sajo says Lewis has not been forthcoming with any additional money.Source: Portland Tribune (OR)Author: Peter KornPublished: September 30, 2010Copyright: 2010 Portland TribuneContact: letters portlandtribune.comWebsite: Medical Marijuana Archives 
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Comment #1 posted by FoM on September 30, 2010 at 15:48:32 PT
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