OR Measure expands medical marijuana
October 14, 2004
Gabriela Rico, Statesman Journal
A vote to expand Oregon’s medical marijuana program will bring relief to seriously ill Oregonians or it will bring the state one step closer to legalizing the drug.
It depends who you ask.
Measure 33 on the Nov. 2 ballot would increase the amount of cannabis a pa-tient can possess and expand the types of medical professionals who can prescribe it.
Greg Byers, a user and grower of medical marijuana, said Measure 33 is a humane at-tempt to help sick people who cannot grow marijuana themselves or get it.
“Doctors are finding that patients are thriving without as many or as strong a dose of pharma-type drugs,” the 52-year-old Salem man said. “Crime has not skyrocketed.”
But the nation’s drug czar, who was in Salem last week, blasted the measure and said it represents what officials feared when the original 1998 medical marijuana law was approved by voters.
“We’re not bigoted; we want medicine that is safe and effective,” said John Walters, director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy. “They have failed to demonstrate safety and efficacy.”
Walters said it is “vile and immoral” to showcase seriously ill people in commercials talking about how much better they feel after using marijuana and offering support for Measure 33.
“If these same people took a hit of meth or crack, they’d feel better, too,” Walters said.
Byers dismisses comments by Walters and said Measure 33 simply corrects oversights of the original law, such as the limited amount of marijuana a patient can possess.
Cannabis is not a low-maintenance plant. It can take between three and six months to grow and prepare, he said.
“Passing Measure 33 will update the OMMA and ensure a safe, secure, sufficient supply of medicine,” Byers said. “The sky will not fall.”
Oregon is one of nine states to allow medical marijuana. The others are Alaska, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Maine, Nevada, Vermont and Washington.
Under current state law, authorized patients can grow and use marijuana with a doctor’s permission.
Measure 33 would increase the amount of marijuana a patient can possess to one pound from the current one ounce and create licensed, non-profit dispensaries regulated by the Oregon Department of Human Services. The dispensaries would pay license fees, keep records, submit monthly reports and pay 10 percent to 20 percent of their revenue to the Oregon Medical Marijuana Program.
Supporters say that would offset most of the estimated $340,000 to $560,000 in administrative costs for the expanded program.
Oregon has issued medical marijuana cards to 9,768 patients and 5,013 caregivers, according to the Oregon Medical Marijuana Program. And there are 1,496 physicians with applications to prescribe marijuana.
Under Measure 33, naturopaths and nurse practitioners would be included in the definition of “attending physician” allowed to prescribe marijuana.
The definition of “debilitating medical condition” would expand to include “any other medical condition for which the use of marijuana would benefit the patient as determined by the attending physician.”
One of the most significant components of the measure for Byers is the requirement that law enforcement agencies contact the state before getting a search warrant in a marijuana investigation.
Last month, Byers got a visit from police officers who asked about his plants.
Byers, who grows marijuana for five patients, said “it was an interesting and unnerving encounter.”
After he showed the officers his medical marijuana card, they left, but Byers doesn’t think anyone should have to go through such an experience.
By making a call to verify participation in the program, police could focus on important matters and not upset or inconvenience patients or caregivers, Byers said.
Not all of the people he supplies marijuana for are smoking it, Byers explained. Some prefer to ingest it in capsule form or drink it in an oil or butter elixir.
He said he knows firsthand the benefits of the herb. The pain of his osteoarthritis and irritable bowl syndrome ease significantly when he uses the drug, Byers said.
“I’d lost tolerance to most medications,” he said of prescription pain killers he used to take.
Others disagree with Byers’ position.
The Libertarian Party of Oregon often has pushed for more liberal drug policies, but it opposes Measure 33.
“For all the good intentions the measure represents and for all the goals it tries to achieve, Measure 33 falls short of bringing true drug policy reform to Oregon,” according to the Libertarians’ voters’ pamphlet statement written by Richard P. Burke, the party’s executive director
Libertarians maintain the measure would impose excessive government regulation on patients and doctors.
“(The) requirement that the medical records of individual patients be kept and maintained is alone enough to reject this measure,” according to Burke’s statement. “It is a violation of patient privacy and personal choice — no place for government to tread.”
Not surprisingly, local law enforcement officers are worried about any expansion of the pool of marijuana users.
Patients without their cards or people with counterfeit medical marijuana cards would require police to spend more time investigating people detained for possession of marijuana, said Lt. Dan Deitz, of the Salem Police Department’s Special Operations Section.
“It’s very confusing,” he said “How do you make something illegal partially legal?”
Measure 33 supporters discount such concerns.
Dr. Rick Bayer of Portland, a chief petitioner of the 1998 Oregon Medical Marijuana Act and of Measure 33, said his biggest challenge is delivering the message despite fears of legalizing drugs or a federal shutdown of the program all together.
“I don’t understand why that fear is there,” he said. “I think it’s totally groundless.”
Bayer said the worst that could happen, if the measure passes, would be a court injunction preventing the opening of dispensaries while courts review the proposal.
“The position that the Marines are going to come in is not going to happen,” Bayer said.
Still, the success of the 1998 measure could present a problem among voters, because 80 percent of Oregonians polled say they like the medical marijuana program as is.
Asking Oregonians to amend a program that they’re pretty content with is tough, Bayer said.
“It’s going to be very close,” he predicted. “But it’s the best chance we’re going to have at any progress for many, many years.”