Marijuana Legalization In Oregon
Not the end of reform but the beginning
By Russ Belville
As we celebrate the 10 years of the Oregon Medical Marijuana Program, let’s reflect on a decade of compassion and success. We’ve seen the program grow to protect more than 20,000 seriously sick and disabled Oregonians “use of the “safest therapeutically active substance known to man,” according to DEA Administrative Law Judge Francis Young.
Some 20,000 Oregonians no longer face harassment, arrest, and imprisonment by law enforcement for their medical use of marijuana as recommended by their doctor. The program is self-funded and has run a surplus that generated over $1 million for other state programs.
However, even with a medical marijuana program, patients still face enormous hurdles while trying to follow their treatment. There is no means of distributing marijuana — buying and selling it, whether they’re medical users or not, is still prohibited by state and federal laws. If a patient cannot grow their own, then they must acquire their medicine on the illegal black market, where it costs more per ounce than palladium or saffron. The expense of growing medical marijuana is not covered by patients’ insurance.
Marijuana’s illegality to the non-medical user means businesses will still urine-test their employees, with no exception for the medical users. Landlords may discriminate against patients in housing and child custody is endangered any time a patient is taken to court.
The illegality of marijuana for the majority of its users also has an impact on the effectiveness of medical use. The U.S. government recently denied a petition by Dr. Lyle Craker of UMass to grow a plot of marijuana for scientific and medical research, despite the recommendation by another DEA Administrative Law Judge, Mary Ellen Bittner, that he was qualified, the research is necessary, and he should be allowed to do it. This stranglehold on medical research also prevents investigation of differing marijuana strains and how their cannabinoid ratios may be effective in treating different conditions.
U.S. government statistics show nearly one in eight adult Oregonians use marijuana at least once per year, and so long as they represent a consumer demand for marijuana, there will always be entrepreneurs looking to provide the supply. The state spends an estimated $61.5 million per year enforcing a marijuana prohibition that 354,000 Oregonians per year ignore. Yet adult Oregonians have still consistently used marijuana for non-medical purposes at a steady rate of 6.5 to 8 percent monthly over the past decade.
Medical users of marijuana only represent a little more than one in 20 of all marijuana users in Oregon. Prohibition of marijuana to those 19 nonmedical users is costing taxpayer dollars in a proven futile attempt to stop their use while Oregon looks to cut school days and programs in order to save money in this economic downturn. Meanwhile that one medical user faces high medicine prices, lack of availability, job loss, home loss, family breakups, and a dearth of reliable scientific information about the medicine because we deem it illegal for the other 19 adult users.
The key to the illegality of marijuana for 95 percent of its Oregon users lies in marijuana’s Schedule I status. The federal government ranks drugs in ‘schedules” from I to V. Drugs rated Schedule II, III, IV, and V, which include cocaine, methamphetamine, opium, PCP, and anabolic steroids, are all prescribable drugs anywhere in the U.S., from the “dangerous” Schedule II drugs to the relatively safe Schedule V drugs. Marijuana is rated Schedule I, completely illegal even for doctors to prescribe, which means:
• “The drug or other substance has a high potential for abuse” (despite the fact that only 9 percent of marijuana users develop dependence, compared to 15 percent for alcohol and 32 percent for tobacco).
• “The drug or other substance has no currently accepted medical use in treatment in the United States” (despite the fact that 13 states now recognize marijuana’s medical use and the U.S. government holds patent #6,630,507 on the medical use of cannabinoids ).
• “There is a lack of accepted safety for use of the drug or other substance under medical supervision” (despite the fact the U.S. government currently sends 300 medical marijuana joints to five U.S. citizens every month , including Oregonian Elvy Musikka).
It is even more clear that marijuana is mis-scheduled when one considers the raw plant form of cannabis, which ranges from 4 to 15 percent THC (the psychoactive chemical in marijuana), is considered Schedule I, yet the pharmaceutical version of THC, the Marinol pill, at 100 percent THC, is considered Schedule III.
Medical marijuana is a wonderful change in Oregon, but only a beginning. Until marijuana is legal for all responsible adults, medical marijuana patients will continue to face these hurdles and never truly receive the treatment they deserve.
Russ Belville is national outreach coordinator for the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws and host of NORML’s Daily Audio Stash at http://stash.norml.org