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Eugene Weekly : Coverstory : 4.30.2009



Smoke Signals

Changes might be coming for Oregon’s Medical Marijuana Act

by Rick Levin

Dan Koozer . Naomi Levit Photograhy, www.NaomiLevitPhotos.com

Narcotics have been systematically scapegoated and demonized. The idea that anyone can use drugs and escape a horrible fate is anathema to these idiots. I predict in the near future right wingers will use drug hysteria as a pretext to set up an international police apparatus. But I’m an old man and I may not live to see a final solution.  — Tom the Preacher in Drugstore Cowboy, 1989

 

Saturday, high noon

It's an odd but fitting sign that this time, the smoke preceded the fire. When folks around Eugene sparked up on April 20 — that would be 4:20, the apocryphal National Marijuana Holiday allegedly named for the after-school meeting time designated by a clutch of teenage stoners in San Rafael in the '70s — they were, consciously or not, sending up a smoke signal of things to come for advocates of medical marijuana.

First of all is the Global Medical Marijuana March at “high noon” Saturday, May 2, in front of the old federal building at 7th and Pearl. Other events are happening in Salem and Portland. The Eugene event will feature a number of notable speakers, including Elvy Musikka, who has been receiving 300 federally sanctioned and supplied joints a month since 1988, Dr. Arthur Livermore, a member of the American Alliance for Medical Cannabis. Also addressing the rally will be Dan Koozer, head of the Willamette Valley chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Law (NORML).

This year's march anticipates a veritable firestorm of initiatives and bills knocking on the door of the Legislature for the next two years at least. According to a WV-NORML press release, “there are 35 bills relating to marijuana in the Oregon State Legislature this session, and there are more coming.”

The Oregon Medical Marijuana Act has been on the books for a decade, and much of the proposed legislation seeks to clarify or clean up or strengthen or gut or eradicate altogether whatever benefits OMMA offers its beneficiaries.

If the state and country have inched closer to ending what some advocates call “Prohibition Part II,” still, all is not mellow in the land of legalized medical marijuana. When it comes to pot, it's politics as usual.

 

A divided movement

“The story you're about to write is completely bullshit.” This is as good a place to start as any, with one of the first sentences spoken to me over the phone by Jerry Wade, who serves as secretary for the Stormy Ray Cardholder's Foundation (SRCF). Wade was responding — in a kind of preemptive strike, since no specific questions had yet been asked — to a request that his organization respond to the scads of criticism leveled at SRCF by other organizations in the movement.

Stormy Ray was one of the chief petitioners for Measure 67, which in its voter-driven success became OMMA. Ray, who in 1985 was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, is one of countless patients whose symptoms have been relieved by ingesting cannabis, and her foundation is currently behind the push to enact Senate Bill 388, which was voted down last week but is expected to return in some form.

According to Wade, SB 388, which received a hearing in Salem April 20, focused exclusively on the needs and rights of patients who use medical marijuana. The bill, he said, sought to prevent abuses on the supply side of the issue by ensuring clear and legal access to well-regulated and well-defined marijuana producers who are growing pot solely for patients.

Now, as for the “bullshit”: Numerous individuals and organizations have claimed, in so many words, that SRCF is a puppet and a front for The Man; and that the organization, by working so closely with law enforcement and politicians, is a slave to power; and that it does not represent the collective interest of the medical marijuana movement.

Anthony Johnson of Voter Power said: “It is a shame that the Stormy Ray Cardholder's Foundation, an organization with just a handful of members, has been propped up and used by the law enforcement lobby to pass laws that actually harm sick and disabled patients.”

The actual harm being done, Johnson claimed, is “by conning legislators that compromises are being  made while patients are only going to be harmed by proposals that reduce the amount of medicine available and will lead to more resources being wasted on the arrest and jailing of patients and their providers.”

Koozer from WV-NORML said that the legalization movement in general is “appalled” that Ray has “worked her way into being the only group that law enforcement will deal with and speak with.” In general, Koozer added, it's confusing that legislators are paying so much attention to law enforcement, which he called “addicted” to the money it makes waging the so-called War on Drugs. He warns further that it's a dangerous thing when law enforcement is involved in the making of laws, a process typically, if not constitutionally, delegated to the legislative branch of government.

Wade objects to such assessments. What Ray's harshest critics refer to as compromise or plain old selling out, Wade might instead call being pragmatic. He says that too many organizations are hitching their wagons to the issue of medical marijuana to trick voters with “backdoor legislation” that seeks to legalize marijuana across the board. What's more, he says, the current system is too prone to abuse, with patients being overcharged or having their card-holding status used as a “fence” for growers and dealers whose supply goes to non-card-holding recreational stoners.

“We are truly fighting to keep this program in the hands of the patients,” Wade said of SB 388, which he added “will have no effect on patients.” What it would have done, Wade adds, is stop “stockpiling and hoarding” by those growers who abuse the current law. The bill explicitly defined garden size and growth amounts and created “an easy-to-understand manual about patient's rights” where “all medicine produced is the property of the patient.”

Essentially, Wade says, his organization has worked hard to close some of these “loopholes” that make the law as it stands — and as many legalization advocates would like to see it remain — an easy way for illegitimate growers to skirt the law. “I'm not saying all growers and caregivers are bad,” he says, adding that he guesses about “90 percent are legal.” It's only those few who are “giving the entire program a black eye.”

 

Initiative 28

Voter Power director John Sajo, who is leading the petition drive to put Initiative 28 in front of the voters in 2010, says that what OMMA has done “is create a cesspool of corruption of a different form,” where patients are just as guilty as abusing growers as vice versa. Many patients he's seen, he says, have passed their card-certified marijuana to other, non-card-carrying individuals — sometimes right in front of Sajo, who is himself a certified medical marijuana grower.

The main difference between SB 388 and I-28 is that — while both deal primarily with the supply side of the issue — the former purports to protect patients by tweaking OMMA with better-defined controls on marijuana growers and distribution, while the latter argues for the creation of a non-profit dispensary system that acts as a regulated middleman between patients and growers. Both claim to clean up corruption: the one, SB 388, by tightening the one-to-one correspondence between patient and supplier; the other, I-28, by modeling the system on controlled but consumer-driven economics.

Sajo says that the real issue driving new legislation, however, is the “inability of the Oregon Legislature to get a handle on the medical marijuana issue.” He says that, unlike every other form of commerce in a capitalist society, “medical marijuana is all supposed to be done without the exchange of money,” which he says is absurd.

Even more absurd, Sajo says, is creating a one-to-one correspondence where individual patients are dependent on a single grower and his or her schedule, harvest and reliability. Here he offers a poignant analogy: “It's insane ... if we tried to do food like that in this country, half the people would starve.”

What I-28 would create, Sajo says, is a “supply system where patients can go get their medicine” in the form of a nonprofit dispensary operating on the model of a regulated free market economy. A sort of sliding-scale system would be implemented for more needy or destitute patients, with some even receiving free medicine, while other patients would pay what the market demands. This system, Sajo adds, would be subject to controls such as inspections and health standards, and a 10 percent tax on sales would fund the overall program.

“A farmer who's good at growing marijuana shouldn't be limited to growing for four patients,” Sajo says. “They should be encouraged to grow for as many as they can.” Under I-28, which so far has collected some 35,000 signatures, a grower would pay $1,000 for a license and would be equally subjected to zoning and inspections.

Jim Greig, a long-standing medical marijuana advocate who suffers from a debilitating from of arthritis that keeps him all but bedridden, calls I-28 “as close to perfect as we're going to get”— at least until the federal government gets past the “bold-faced lie” of giving marijuana the same controlled substance scheduling as heroin. “What other prescription drug do you need to get a hundred dollar permit to carry it?” Greig asks rhetorically.

For Greig, every existing problem with medical marijuana legislation starts at the federal level, and the only solution, he adds, is education, which would challenge the ridiculously outdated “Reefer Madness” mentality and politicized fear tactics of the War on Drugs while also alerting the public to the substantial and ever-increasing amount of scientific data that proves the medicinal properties of cannabis. “Decisions are supposed to be made on scientific fact, not ideologies,” Greig says.

 

Collateral damage

C.J., a 50-year-old Eugene native, applied this year for his first card to hold medical marijuana, which he uses to ease pain and relive the symptoms of nausea. With a long list of health problems — resulting primarily from a head injury and including the removal of his pituitary gland — C.J. says he finds it frustrating that the federal government doesn't recognize marijuana as a “legitimate medication.”

Having found the synthetic THC substitute Marinol a poor substitute — “All it did was give me bloodshot eyes and dry my eye sockets out” — C.J. says he considers himself a kind of collateral damage of the War on Drugs, which he calls “a conspiracy against the American people.”

At this point, he said, with the growth of privatized prisons and a vast apparatus built up to combat illegal drugs, the only people truly profiting from drug prohibition are criminals, the government and terrorist cells being funded by the trade in Afghanistan opium. As for the U.S. and its current policies, “They're feeding the machine they're fighting against,” C.J. says. “It's a conspiracy.”

Koozer of WV-NORML also supports the dispensary initiative, though he says the larger issue here is individual liberty and complete decriminalization. “It's a freedom issue,” he says, “your right to be able to do what you want with your body and your life.”

Echoing the sentiments of so many others involved in the movement to legalize marijuana, whether for medical or recreational use, Koozer admits he's sometimes discouraged by all the competing voices out there and the infighting among organizations. “There is so much dysfunctionality within the movement, it's extremely frustrating,” he says, adding that improving the public perception, and misperception, of the movement is an “ongoing problem.”

“We're always trying to improve our credibility,” Koozer says. “It's more than just getting high. It's more about rope than dope. We just keep trying to plead with people to come together and work together. The problem is, we're just preaching to the choir.”

All this over a plant. As Koozer puts it: “Why don't we all get behind something that's really nasty, like poison oak?”

 

A new optimism

Nonetheless, many folks involved in the current push for new legislation express an optimism, albeit cautious, about both the near and distant future, which some have called brighter for the election of Barack Obama — or the ejection of Bush ideology, however one cares to view it.

“Now is a good time to take medical cannabis issues to the people because they are ahead of the politicians,” Johnson of Voter Power says, citing recent polls that found 63 percent of Oregon voters supporting OMMA and, more specifically, 59 percent supporting I-28. And, he says, “the people are learning the truth across the nation,” pointing to recent cannabis reform laws passed in both Michigan and Massachusetts.

Despite the fact that “our program is under attack every legislative session,” Greig says he is feeling optimistic about the success of I-28 in Oregon. “We got an early enough start,” he says.

“Things are really looking up,” says Wade of SRCF. “In the federal government we'll see some sort of federal legislation here

in a couple of years. Once we kind of get through this [current legislative session], I have a feeling polices are going to change.”

 

 

 

A Proclamation

Eugene Mayor Kitty Piercy has signed a proclamation declaring the week of April 30 to May 6 as “Medical Marijuana Awareness Week” in Eugene. 

The proclamation notes that currently 25,000 patients and more than 2,900 doctors participate in Oregon’s medical marijuana program and that “Pre-clinical and clinical trials indicate that cannabinoids are useful in controlling Alzheimer’s disease, cancer, chronic pain, diabetes, GI disorders, hepatitis C, multiple sclerosis, osteoporosis, rheumatoid arthritis and sleep apnea.”

The document concludes: “Marijuana has a history of thousands of years of safe use without any recorded deaths attributed to its use, and all citizens deserve the right to know the truth about cannabis.”

 

 

 

GREATEST STORY NEVER TOLD?

Hemp and marijuana activists in Lane County are talking about the potential healing qualities of hemp oil that can be ingested orally or rubbed on. The dark, sticky oil contains THC, making it currently illegal in this country for general use.

A story by Raymond Cushing at www.alternet.org/story/9257 titled “Pot Shrinks Tumors” says, “The term medical marijuana took on dramatic new meaning in February 2000 when researchers in Madrid announced they had destroyed incurable brain tumors in rats by injecting them with THC, the active ingredient in cannabis.” 

The AlterNet story made the “Top Censored” stories of 2000, based on the fact that mainstream media ignored the Madrid study along with research on THC and cancer going back to 1974.

Today, most information on the subject can only be found through word of mouth and online. A free 55-minute movie called Run From the Cure: The Rick Simpson Story can be watched at www.PhoenixTearsMovie.com though not every computer can download it. Excerpts from the Canadian film can be found on YouTube by searching for “Run From the Cure.” More information is available at www.PhoenixTears.ca

Testimonials on the film include people cured of various forms of cancer, migraine headaches, intestinal problems, diabetes and multiple other health issues. Many of the cured patients reportedly suffered from terminal illnesses.

“This oil is ideally made of one pound of Indica bud which makes two ounces of oil and reportedly can cure cancer in three months or less,” says Kathy Ging of Eugene who has been touting the film through her email list.

Ging says the process of making the hemp oil involves heat and solvents and can be dangerous. “This is why it needs to be legalized and made in a lab for scientific testing of dosage, strength, etc.” 

In the film, Rick Simpson says one of the primary reasons marijuana is illegal as medicine in many states is that the powerful pharmaceutical industry sees it as competition and can’t make any money from it. “No patent means no money,” he says.

“This may someday be known as the greatest story never told, until now,” says Ging. — Ted Taylor