Revisions to medical marijuana law polarize sides
August 12, 2004
Crystal Luong, Statesman JournalConsensus talks recently broke down between medical-marijuana advocates and statewide law enforcement, setting up a potential voting-season battle this fall.
The latter said they withdrew after it became clear that no consensus would be reached on the Oregon Medical Marijuana Act.
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Benton County District Attorney Scott Heiser, representing law enforcement, said some medical-marijuana advocates were “driven by a desire to legalize the drug … using the medical-marijuana act to try and advance their ‘cause.’ ”
Advocates express disappointment at the outcome of the almost yearlong meetings.
“Law enforcement views us as criminals, not patients,” said Madeline Martinez, executive director of the Portland-based Oregon National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws.
“Here, we’re volunteers,” said Martinez, who also has been a medical-marijuana patient for almost five years. “They take us to the end, and then say, ‘We don’t want to play.’”
As the breakdown surfaced, revisions to the state’s medical-marijuana act, Measure 33, had qualified for the November ballot.
Law enforcement expressed frustration toward the pro-medical-marijuana faction that was unilaterally collecting signatures for Measure 33 while consensus talks occurred.
“A lot of people tried, put a lot of time into this,” Heiser said. “For what? So Measure 33 could get on the ballot?”
During talks, advocates and law enforcement refused to compromise on two key issues addressed in Measure 33: multiple-growth sites and caregiver compensation.
OMMA, in effect since 1998, does not limit the number of patients for whom a caregiver can grow, but any monetary exchange between patients and caregivers is illegal. Caregivers can possess up to seven plants, three mature and four immature, per patient.
More than 10,000 patients have registered in the Oregon Medical Marijuana Program since it began.
Although abuse cases at multiple-growth sites have created a concern for law enforcement, advocates argue that multiple grows make economic sense, considering the high costs of production.
Martinez said energy bills for her indoor growth alone average about $300 per month.
Measure 33, also known as OMMA 2, notably would increase availability and patient possession of medical marijuana.
The measure would create licensed dispensaries, or state-regulated nonprofit entities that could distribute medical marijuana to patients.
It also would allow a qualified patient to possess up to 6 pounds of medical marijuana per year.
The goal of the failed legislative advisory committee was to seek compromise on such issues and produce a consensus bill for the 2005 Legislature.
“It was a committee hoping that opposing views would reconcile,” Heiser said.
Sen. Bill Morrisette (D-Springfield), Senate Committee on Health Policy chair, called for the group after the failure of House Bill 2939, a proposal by the Oregon Narcotics Enforcement Association. He requested that the Department of Human Services arrange and mediate meetings.
DHS Public Health Officer Dr. Grant Higginson, who will submit a full committee report to Morrisette within the next couple of weeks, said it was clear since the first meeting in November 2003 that few agreements would be reached.
The only issue that both sides agreed on was providing 24-hour verification information to state and local law enforcement, which can be accomplished administratively, said Mary Leverette, committee member and OMMA acting program manager.
HB 2939 had pushed for an all-access grow-site database for law enforcement and sought to disqualify anyone with a prior drug conviction from the program and force applicants to undergo an education course.
Those issues never were ironed out, but DHS presented a potential consensus draft before a scheduled June 28 meeting.
Advocates thought progress was hopeful.
“All Oregon medical marijuana advocates said they would take it (the draft) at face value,” said Dr. Richard Bayer, OMMA chief petitioner.
But Heiser, who said he had expressed frustrations since January, wrote to DHS on June 23 to announce law enforcement’s withdrawal.
“We wanted to explore the process fully to make sure we weren’t pulling out early,” Heiser said. “There was no consensus on anything material.
It is too early to predict the effects of the communication breakdown, but the future of patients statewide could now depend on whether Measure 33 passes and if the 2005 Legislature chooses to revise OMMA, Higginson said.
Debates between advocates and law enforcement is expected to reach the polls this fall.
Advocates plan to shift their efforts to Measure 33.
Consensus that they sought in failed talks have surfaced in the November initiative. It includes:
Heiser, who plans to support Measure 33’s organized opposition, cited specific concern for the measure’s proposal to increase allowable possessions and formation of dispensaries.
“Voters will decide whether Oregon will be the most liberal state in the nation,” Heiser said.
Bayer asserted that Measure 33 is about patient protection and not drug legalization.
“Oregon medical marijuana advocates want marijuana to be treated like other medicines,” he said.
Heiser, however, called the reasoning a defense for legalization.
“The reality is that it’s just rhetoric to advance a cause,” Heiser said.
Department of Human Services
Oregon law enforcement
Paul Frisch, Oregon Medical Association
cluong@StatesmanJournal.com or (503) 399-6833