Marijuana Advocates Want Law Expanded

March 14, 2003

Tim Christie, Register-Guard - Orgeon,

Boosters Launch An Initiative Asking Voters To Make Medical Pot More Available. Advocates are proposing big changes to the 4-year-old Oregon Medical Marijuana Act, including establishing dispensaries for distributing the drug, even as federal authorities move to clamp down on such state laws. The supporters, under the name Life with Dignity Committee, filed an initiative with the Secretary of State's Office to amend Oregon's law. Backers need to get about 75,000 signatures to get the measure before voters on the November 2004 ballot. The initiative would, among other things, set up dispensaries to be run by nonprofit groups and be licensed and registered by the State Department of Human Services. The initiative would also: * Increase the amount of marijuana that a medical marijuana cardholder could grow and possess. Cardholders now can grow three mature plants and four immature plants and possess up to 3 ounces. The initiative would permit cardholders to grow 10 marijuana plants at once and possess up to 1 pound of marijuana. If a person is growing one crop per year, the cardholder could possess up to 6 pounds of marijuana. * Authorize nurse-practitioners and naturopaths, not just doctors, to recommend marijuana for patients. * Establish the Oregon Medical Marijuana Commission. The commission would have one member each representing patients, caregivers, dispensaries, law enforcement, defense attorneys, doctors and the state. The commission would have authority to order and veto staff decisions. Oregon voters approved the medical marijuana law in 1998, and it went into effect in 1999. Cardholders must get a doctor to sign a form saying they could benefit from marijuana and pay a $150 annual fee. The number of cardholders has grown steadily each year, from 594 in April 2000 to 1,662 in April 2001 and 3,596 in April 2002. As of Thursday (February 13, 2003), the number stood at 4,639. The move to liberalize Oregon's law comes as federal authorities are trying to assert their authority over the state laws, particularly in California. Last month, a federal court jury in San Francisco convicted Ed Rosenthal, a self-described "Guru of Ganja," of growing more than 100 plants, conspiracy to cultivate marijuana and maintaining a warehouse for a growing operation. He faces up to 85 years in prison when sentenced June 4th. During the trial, U.S. District Judge Charles Breyer barred Rosenthal's attorneys from telling the jury that he grew marijuana for Oakland's medical-marijuana program. When jurors found out after the trial, they called a news conference to say they were misled and that they would have acquitted Rosenthal had they known he was growing marijuana for medical purposes. John Sajo, the initiative's chief petitioner, said he's concerned that would change if voters decided to expand the Oregon law. But he added, "We expect this conflict between the 10 states that have medical marijuana laws ( and the federal government ) to continue. On this issue, states are right and the feds are wrong, and ultimately, it's the federal policy that needs to change." The initiative includes new language asserting Oregon's right to "regulate the health and safety of its citizens" under the 10th Amendment and its citizens right to privacy under the Ninth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. The head of one anti-drug group said the effort to liberalize the Oregon law and establish medical marijuana dispensaries is "a ridiculous idea." "What you're doing is making the state, in essence, the drug dealer," said Sandra Bennett, director of the Northwest Center for Health and Safety in La Center, Wash. Unlike legal prescription drugs, there is no control over the potency or dosage of marijuana, she said. "It absolutely makes no sense to do that," she said. Advocates say dispensaries would address what they see as one of the biggest problems with Oregon's law, which is that it can be hard for patients to obtain a steady, reliable supply of marijuana. And it would curb thefts of medical marijuana gardens, they say. "We've heard literally of dozens of thefts of marijuana gardens" in the past year, said Sajo, head of Voter Power, a group that advocates medical marijuana. "Hopefully, by having dispensaries that will be regulated, that wouldn't be an issue. Dispensary administrators would pay a $1,000 fee, plus 10 percent of growth revenue to the state. They also would be required to provide medical marijuana for free to indigent patients, at an amount equal to 20 of the value of marijuana sold each month.

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