Changes to state marijuana law could expand drug growth, possession rights

November 12, 2007

Carly Nairn, Daily Vanguard (Portland State, OR)

A drafter of Oregon's marijuana law visited Portland State yesterday, advocating law changes, including increased rights to possess the drug as well as its limited legalization, which could be presented to the state legislature this session.

Leland Berger, who helped draft the state law for medical marijuana, presented an initiative on behalf of the pro-marijuana group Voter Power that would give legal rights as well as cost reimbursements to patients who privately grow the drug for medical use.

The initiative also calls for the creation of a regulated and licensed dispensary system and the legalization of the drug for adults.

Berger talked with students at PSU on Tuesday about these initiatives, as well as options that will be presented to the state legislature by the pro-marijuana group in the upcoming session.

The group's plan, called Initiative 124, would provide safe access, choice and reimbursement to growers, patients and nonprofit organizations, according to the group's campaign literature.

Berger said he understands marijuana can be a medical necessity for patients, particularly for pain relief.

"It isn't like 'I would rather have this medicine,' but more like 'I have to have the medicine because it treats my aliments,'" Berger said.

In 2003, a poll was taken by Voter Power, and 90 percent of the Oregonians polled were aware of the state law, and 90 percent approved of its existence, Berger said.

"This proves that the people are ahead of their government," he said.

Anthony Johnson, the political director of the group, said he sees the importance of these initiatives outside the scope of marijuana.

"I see it as important because it has to do with civil rights, and it's a personal freedom and personal choice issue," he said.

Currently, there are three clinics in Portland where people can have physicians prescribe the drug based on medical conditions, one of which is operated by the group, Berger said.

There are also over 2,000 private physicians in the state that have prescribed medical marijuana to their patients, he said.

In opposition to the group is Kevin Mannix, a former state gubernatorial candidate and chairman of the Oregon Republican Party.

Mannix, currently a defense attorney, is trying to re-criminalize medical marijuana by repealing the state's current law on the drug.

If passed, Mannix's counter-initiative could ban patients currently under the protection of the state's medical marijuana law from being able to grow or use the drug starting March 31, 2009, making prescribed patients use synthetic THC pills such as Marinol. THC is the main chemical compound present in marijuana.

Lissa Kaufman, director of PSU's Student Legal and Mediation Services, said knowing the laws about marijuana use and possession are important to students because it could affect their student aid.

Any drug conviction can suspend financial aid if the student was convicted while receiving aid, according to the federal Higher Education Act. Inability to obtain aid after that is suspended for up to a year.

"It is part of the mission of legal and mediation services to present topical legal issues that affect the student body," said Kaufman.

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