Measure 33 is wrong prescription on marijuana

September 26, 2004

EDITORIAL, Statesman Journal - Salem, OR

Medical-marijuana advocates wrote a lousy law six years ago and talked Oregon voters into passing it. Measure 33 would only make that law worse.

About 10,000 Oregonians now use marijuana with a doctor’s prescription to ease pain, nausea and conditions such as glaucoma and muscle spasms. Many say marijuana has allowed them to live comfortably with far less medication than before.
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That news is encouraging; however, public policy should be based on scientific research, not anecdotes. Until we know more, it doesn’t make sense to vastly expand this program.

Under current law, registered patients legally can get a limited amount of marijuana by either growing it themselves or having a caregiver grow it for them for free. Measure 33’s backers say that’s a hardship for seriously ill people, and some patients wind up buying marijuana on the black market.

Measure 33 would “fix” that by multiplying the number of people eligible to get prescriptions, the number of places they can get marijuana, the amount of marijuana they and their caregivers can keep on hand — and who can prescribe the drug.

Marijuana could be prescribed for any “debilitating medical condition.” Meanwhile, a commission would be created with the power to overrule marijuana-related decisions by the State Department of Human Services.

The potential danger is that virtually anyone could get the OK to plant a plot and play medical-marijuana pharmacist under the guise of being a dispensary. A patient legally could keep as much as 6 pounds of marijuana — a year’s supply — at one time. A licensed marijuana dispensary could have far more on hand.

This measure does an end run around the folks who know about the flip side of illicit drugs — police and the courts. It even requires police to check with the Department of Human Services before obtaining a search warrant for some marijuana investigations.

A task force composed of health and law enforcement officials and medical-marijuana advocates tried to come up with a more moderate proposal for the 2005 Legislature. Unfortunately, the group fell apart this year when law enforcement members walked out.

Oregon’s venture into medical marijuana does put government in a bind. It’s strange to see one arm of the state OK marijuana for some uses while another arm arrests people for possessing it. But then it also is strange that the state profits from tobacco — which has no beneficial use — and alcohol, yet campaigns against smoking and alcohol abuse.

Oregon ought to encourage research and find workable ways to get medical marijuana to patients while minimizing illegal use. But Measure 33 isn’t the solution.

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