Measure 33: Improving Oregon's medical marijuana program or crossing the line?

October 24, 2004

Meghann Cuniff, Oregon Daily Emerald - Univ. of Oregon

Marijuana was legalized for medicinal purposes in Oregon with the approval of Measure 67 in 1998, igniting a debate that has been further inflamed this election year by ballot Measure 33.

The measure would amend the current medical marijuana laws by requiring marijuana dispensaries throughout the state and increasing a patient's possession limit. Many opposed to the measure are concerned it is a disguised attempt to legalize marijuana for all purposes and would harm the current medical marijuana laws that have helped many patients get the medicine they need.

But supporters of the measure say this view stems from a general misunderstanding of what measure 33 actually intends to do.

Jackie Lamont, general manager of the Compassion Center in Eugene, said most of the opposition toward the measure is unfounded.

'It was written to make the existing law work better,' she said.

Though the center, which provides education and services to medical marijuana patients, is prohibited from taking an official stance on political issues like Measure 33 because it is a non-profit organization, Lamont said everyone working at the center supports the measure.

But John Horton, associate deputy director for state and local affairs of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, said there is 'absolutely no question' that the measure is an attempt to legalize marijuana in Oregon.

'Oregonians have a right to know what this is really all about,' he said.

Horton said it was a mistake to legalize marijuana for medicinal purposes in the first place because it is simply not a medicine.

'To suggest that it is, is just like selling snake oil,' Horton said.

Passing the measure would only continue leading Oregonians down a path of illicit substance injustice, Horton said.

'People need to be told the truth about marijuana not being medicine,' he said.

Elvy Musikka, the first woman to receive medical marijuana from the federal government, said smoking marijuana regularly has been the only way to maintain eyesight since being diagnosed with glaucoma in 1975.

Though Musikka lives in Northern California, she has been very involved in the 'yes on 33' efforts, citing a need to do everything possible to make marijuana safely available to those who need it and challenge the existing marijuana laws.

'When a man-made law is contrary to the law of nature it really hurts it validity,' Musikka said.

If Measure 33 passes, Musikka said it will make it safer and easier for medical marijuana patients to legally obtain marijuana by adding state-regulated dispensaries and making it legal for a caregiver to tend to a patient's marijuana plants.

But Stormy Ray, chief petitioner for Oregon's original medical marijuana measure in 1998, said the presence of a caregiver is what worries some of those opposed to the measure because the measure would make a patient's plants the property of the caregiver.

'That would take that caring and sharing away by putting a price tag on it,' Ray said, citing a history of scandalous practices by caregivers.

Ray said caregivers are too often concerned with making money and said she is worried the measure will make it legal for caregivers to sell their patients' crops for profit.

'We would take those bad caregiver practices today and make them legal for them to do it to the patient's tomorrow,' Ray said.

However, Lamont said concerns about the motives of caregivers can easily be quelled if the patient takes the caregiver's role seriously and works to establish an open and honest relationship between himself or herself and the caregiver.

'One would assume you've had conversation with this person prior to the arrangement,' she said.

Ray also cited concerns that the measure is an attempt to legalize marijuana, saying though she isn't opposed to the idea she wants it to be presented to voters in an honest way.

Measure 33 would raise a patient's possession limit from one ounce and four plants to one pound and 10 plants. If a patient can prove he or she is only growing one crop per year the limit is increased to six pounds.

Lamont and Musikka both said the increase is to ensure that patients are never without medicine when they need it and to ensure that dispensaries can remain adequately stocked.

But Horton said the new proposed limits are unreasonable and evidence of the measure's true intentions. He said the increase amounts to 'more than anyone possibly could need.' To even make a dent in that amount of marijuana 'you would have to smoke numerous joints every day,' he said.

Many opposed to the measure worry it would attract attention from the federal government and jeopardize the current medical marijuana laws in Oregon, something Musikka said should be accepted if patients and medial marijuana advocates hope to continue making progress in their introduction of medical marijuana into mainstream society.

'We need to face it,' Musikka said. 'You have to have courage; if you don't have that you won't have freedom for long.'

But Horton said many people suffer from a lack of adequate information regarding the medicinal purposes of marijuana and how increasing the possession limit and mandating marijuana dispensaries in every county will affect tax payers.

The mandatory dispensaries would be funded by tax payers, which makes it even more vital that voters know all the information, Horton said.

'Bills like these tend to fail when people are told the truth about marijuana,' Horton said. As of April 2004 Lamont said there were 8,975 cardholding medical marijuana patients and 4,822 cardholding caregivers in Oregon; 1,111 of them are Lane County residents.

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