Fees for medical-marijuana create budget surplus

August 19, 2004

Crystal Luong, Statesman Journal - Salem, OR

As the number of medical-marijuana patients continues to rise in Oregon, the accompanying licensing fees have generated a substantial budget surplus.

The Oregon Medical Marijuana Program reported a surplus of about $986,000 by the end of March.

The patient-registration program was created after the Oregon Medical Marijuana Act took effect in 1998.
The program started without state funding in 1999 and has operated solely on patient fees.

More than 10,000 patients are registered. Estimates for the program’s first years were between 500 and 1,000 participants.

Based on projections, application fees were set to cover a $100,000 price tag for launching the agency, said Dr. Richard Bayer, Administrative Rules Committee member for the state’s medical-marijuana act.

The goal was surpassed within two years.

As a result of the greater participation, the Department of Human Services cut annual renewal fees in July 2003.

Since then, registration has almost doubled, and further reductions are being sought.

“It’s extremely difficult to predict this program,” said Chris Grorud, DHS program support manager.

Some of the surplus will go to the state’s general fund and to develop a 24-hour verification system that law enforcement officials could use to confirm legal cardholders.

Medical-marijuana advocates want to see more of the funds directed to patient-care resources.

Once patients receive their registry cards, they have no federal referrals about where to go or how to grow plants, said Madeline Martinez, executive director of the Oregon National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws.

Those issues are beyond the program’s realm, according to state Public Health Officer Grant Higginson.

“The program is not meant to be an advocate for the medical-marijuana act,” Higginson said. “It is currently felt that to provide that information is beyond administrative duties.”

The program will continue to focus only on processing applications, issuing state registry cards and handling renewals. All information for patients is available on the program’s Web site and in printed form, said Mary Leverette, acting program manager.

The resources include statutes, application instructions, basic facts and statistics.

Although the state does not contribute to the program, about $26,000 of its surplus will be transferred to the state general fund, Grorud said.

People in the Oregon Health Plan or receiving Supplemental Security income pay less for applications and renewals.

The program’s Administrative Work Group is considering further fee reductions, which might take effect as early as 2005, Higginson said.

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