Oregon medical marijuana backers turn in signatures

July 01, 2004

Brad Cain, Associated Press

SALEM, Ore. - A measure to expand Oregon's medical marijuana program by letting patients possess more of the drug appeared headed for the fall ballot Friday after supporters turned in 28,500 signatures.

A total of 61,282 petition signatures were submitted earlier, giving sponsors nearly 15,000 more than the 75,630 signatures that are needed to qualify for ballot.

'It's been a long struggle, but we're looking good,' said chief petitioner John Sajo, who's been working for years to try to expand what he calls an overly restrictive medical marijuana program.

Signatures also were submitted Friday for measures to cap medical malpractice damage awards, restrict logging on state forests and abolish SAIF Corp., the state-owned workers compensation insurer. Those measures appeared to have enough signatures to qualify for the ballot.

Sponsors of a measure to reinstate term limits on state legislators also brought in signatures, but there were doubts about whether they had enough to put the issue before voters this fall.

Earlier in the week, signatures were submitted for measures to ban same-sex marriages and to require compensation when land-use regulations decrease people's property values.

State officials have until Aug. 1 to verify the petition signatures.

Under Oregon's current medical marijuana law, qualified patients are allowed to use and grow small amounts of marijuana without fear of prosecution as long as a doctor says it might help their condition.

The expansion measure aimed at the Nov. 2 ballot would increase the possession limit from three ounces of marijuana to a pound at any one time.

It also would create state-regulated dispensaries authorized to supply up to six pounds of marijuana per year to qualified patients.

Sajo and other supporters say the current law needs to be rewritten to make it easier for sick people who qualify for the drug to get it.

The Bush administration has said it will oppose the measure on grounds that it is being pushed as a 'backdoor' move to legalize marijuana.

Backers of the medical malpractice measure turned in 172,000 signatures, well above the 100,840 needed to qualify. It would put a $500,000 lid on noneconomic, 'pain and suffering' damage awards against doctors, an idea that has failed several times before in Oregon.

Doctors say caps on such awards are needed because unrestricted jury awards are driving up malpractice insurance costs and causing physicians to retire early or to drop high-risk specialties like obstetrics.

The measures will face opposition from trial lawyers and consumer rights advocates who say such limits violate people's rights to have juries decide damages.

The forest proposal would limit timber harvests to 50 percent of the Tillamook and Clatsop state forests in northwestern Oregon. The other 50 percent would be protected for drinking water, salmon and recreational uses.

Sponsors who turned in a total of 114,887 signatures to qualify the measure, which requires 75,000 signatures. They call it a balanced approach that protects aesthetic and recreational values while allowing some logging.

The timber industry opposes the measure, saying it will sharply curtail logging in the forests, put jobs at risk and reduce timber revenue to area governments.

Backers of the measure to abolish SAIF Corp. submitted 130,000 petition signatures, far in excess of the 75,630 needed to qualify. The signature drive for the measure was bankrolled largely by a rival insurance company, Liberty Northwest.

It contends that SAIF has denied coverage to many small businesses, refused to pay some legitimate injured workers' claims, and reaped 'excess profits' that have left the company with $500 million in reserves.

But Democratic Gov. Ted Kulongoski and others defend SAIF, saying it has been instrumental in creating one of the most cost-effective systems in the country for compensating injured workers.

Term limit backers were hoping to place a measure on the Nov. 2 ballot to revive a 1992 law that forced dozens of veteran legislators from office before it was thrown out by the courts.

Chief petitioner Paul Farago turned in 117,188 signatures, and he needs 100,800 valid signatures to qualify.

Farago said he was hopeful the term limits measure would qualify, but he conceded it would be close since typically 15 to 20 percent of signatures are deemed invalid for a variety of reasons.

The measure would reinstate the previous law's limits - three two-year House terms, two four-year Senate terms and a 14-year overall limit.

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