Oregon medical marijuana usage on the rise

January 23, 2005

Associated Press, Arizona Central

PORTLAND, Ore. - The number of Oregonians with medical marijuana cards has doubled in less than two years, with nearly 10,000 residents now eligible to use the drug.
Opponents say the growth shows that medical marijuana cards can serve as a cover for recreational drug use. Defenders say it reflects growing acceptance of marijuana as an alternative to mainstream medicine.

"I don't think anybody in their wildest dreams thought there would be this many people in the program," said Pam Salsbury said who manages the state's medical marijuana office in the Department of Human Services. "We're hearing from other states that have a program and wonder how we do it."

Oregon's fee-based program has grown so fast that it built up a cash surplus of nearly $1 million last year. To reduce it, officials cut the annual fee for a medical marijuana card from $150 to $55. For Oregon Health Plan patients, the fee dropped to $20.

Oregon is one of 10 states where medical marijuana use is legal. The others are Alaska, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Maine, Montana, Nevada, Vermont and Washington. Arizona also has a law allowing medical marijuana, but no active program.

The Oregon law, approved by voters in 1998, allows residents to use a small amount of marijuana for medical purposes. They must grow their own or designate a caregiver to do so for them.

A doctor must verify that the patient has a "debilitating medical condition" or a symptom such as nausea or severe pain.

More than 1,500 Oregon doctors have signed at least one patient application, according to state figures through 2004. But 10 doctors account for two-thirds of the current and pending marijuana card requests.

"Unquestionably, people are taking advantage of a system that was created for individuals with medical problems," said Ken Magee, the Drug Enforcement Administration's agent in charge of operations for Oregon and Idaho.

The federal agency considers marijuana a dangerous drug with no medicinal value.

John Sajo, who heads Voter Power, an advocacy group for medical marijuana users, attributed the rapid growth in the Oregon program to increasing acceptance by doctors. He said marijuana also helps some patients avoid more potent and expensive prescription drugs.

"It's not just the patients saying they feel better," he said. "It's also the patients saying: 'And don't write me the morphine prescription anymore.' " if(ScriptsLoaded) stInit();

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