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Eugene Weekly : Viewpoint : 10.28.10




Workable Dispensaries

Measure 74 fills a gap in a state program

By Cheryl Smith  

Measure 74 is causing quite a stir in Oregon. This citizen initiative, if passed by the voters in November, will create a system to supply medical marijuana to individuals who are now unable to grow it or obtain it legally. The need for such a system is very real.

Compassion Center, a nonprofit medical marijuana advocacy and education organization in Eugene, receives phone calls every week from patients who are qualified to use medical marijuana but are unable to obtain it. Sadly, the patients who call are usually the most ill, do not use marijuana recreationally (and consequently don’t even have access to the black market) and in many cases are homebound. These are the patients for whom this law was written.

The Oregonian editorial board claims that we don’t need dispensaries and, if passed, Measure 74 will cause a “free-for-all on pot.”  Well, I have news for them. More than a dozen illegal dispensaries are already operating in Oregon. They are popping up all over the state. That’s the real free-for-all and we are in the midst of it.

These dispensaries are selling marijuana under the guise of “donations” or “reimbursements,” claiming that they are operating in a gray area of the current law. In most cases, a medical marijuana patient makes a specified financial contribution in exchange for a specified amount of marijuana or cannabis-laced edibles. Many of these “resource centers” are for-profit entities — selling products that may not be what they are purported to be and may be ineffective in treating symptoms such as pain or nausea — often for outrageous prices.

We need to stop this underground growth of unregulated dispensaries before we really do become another California — with dispensaries on every street corner, operating with no oversight. In that state, dispensaries have only been regulated as a response to the out-of-control situation that was created in when they weren’t addressed by the law. We can prevent this outcome in Oregon by passing Measure 74.

Measure 74 will maintain the current system that allows patients or an individual of their choice to grow their medical marijuana within certain guidelines. It will add to that a regulated system of licensed producers that can sell their products to licensed nonprofit dispensaries, a low-income assistance program, a 10 percent tax on gross revenues, and the opportunity for research.

Development of a research program under this Measure will give us the ability to continue research that has already begun on breeding the most effective strains of cannabis for various diseases and conditions. Licensed dispensaries will have the incentive to get their products tested, so patients are protected, obtain the best medicine possible and get what they are paying for.

Some opponents claim that the law is poorly written and too vague because it requires the Department of Human Services (now Oregon Health Authority (OHA)) to develop administrative rules regarding details of this supply system. These include licensing, reporting, location of dispensaries, security requirements, penalties for violation and development of low income and research programs. This argument is a red herring. For those who don’t know, agencies such as OHA routinely write administrative rules to implement, interpret or prescribe law. The law creates the framework and the rules fill it out. The public even gets a chance to comment on the proposed rules before they are final.

Some complain that the Measure doesn’t limit the number of individuals who can produce medical marijuana or its products, nor does it limit the number of dispensaries that can be licensed. However, because the OHA will be responsible for overseeing and regulating these entities, it would be in their best interest to write rules that have the effect of limiting participants. Measure 74 even contains language that gives OHA the authority to develop requirements that would have that effect.

Another allegation is that Measure 74 is an attempt at stealth legalization of marijuana. The reality is that the measure doesn’t expand the limited number of conditions that qualify patients to use medical marijuana in Oregon, so it clearly isn’t legalization. 

Measure 74 may not be the perfect proposal for authorizing an alternative to the current system for supplying medical marijuana patients with their medicine, but it is workable. We need to regulate dispensaries now, rather than waiting for the Legislature to pass the perfect law or the people to get the perfect initiative on the ballot in the future. Vote yes on Measure 74.

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Cheryl K. Smith is an attorney and the executive director for Compassion Center, a nonprofit medical marijuana patient advocacy and education organization in Eugene. She can be reached at 484-6558 or email execdir@compassioncenter.net