Talks break down over medical marijuana

August 11, 2004

Associated Press, KATU-TV, Portland

SALEM, Ore. - A committee formed to give legislators some guidance on medical marijuana issues has disbanded, after talks broke down between law enforcement authorities and medical marijuana supporters.

Benton County District Attorney Scott Heiser said his side pulled out because supporters of medical marijuana seemed primarily interested in wholesale legalization of the drug, a charge advocates deny.

Marijuana has been legal for medical purposes in Oregon since 1998.

'Law enforcement views us as criminals, not patients,' Madeline Martinez, executive director of the Portland-based Oregon National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, told The Statesman Journal in Salem.

Department of Human Services Public Health Officer Dr. Grant Higginson, who will submit a full committee report to state Senators within the next couple of weeks, said it was clear since the first meeting in November 2003 that few agreements would be reached.

The group was convened after the failure of a bill in the 2003 legislative session that would have created an all-access grow-site database for law enforcement.

Under the bill, anyone with a prior drug conviction would have been disqualified from the program, and applicants would have been forced to undergo an education course.

Even as the committee was meeting though, medical marijuana advocates were collecting signatures for a measure on the November ballot, which would increase the availability of medical marijuana.

That effort threw a wrench into the talks, and both sides found themselves unable to agree on two key issues: multiple-growth sites and caregiver compensation.

The state's existing medical marijuana law 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 per patient.

Abuses of the system at multiple-growth sites have been a growing concern for law enforcement. But advocates argue that multiple grows make economic sense, considering the high costs of production.

The upcoming ballot 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.

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