Oregon bid to expand medical marijuana fails

November 02, 2004

Matt Monaghan, Statesman Journal - Salem, OR

Oregon voters have rejected a ballot measure that would have expanded the state's current medical-marijuana law.

Measure 33 lost decisively Tuesday, leaving in place Oregon's current medical marijuana statute, the Oregon Medical Marijuana Act.

Opponents of the measure, including law enforcement officials and the Libertarian Party, hailed voters' decision for starkly contrasting reasons.

'I think people saw what this was: a front to legalize marijuana,' said Stephen Dingle, a Deputy District Attorney trial team supervisor for Marion County. 'It would have made prosecuting marijuana users in Oregon impossible.'

Meanwhile, Richard P. Burke, executive director of Oregon's Libertarian Party, said the measure included too much government oversight.

'The reason we didn't support 33 was that it involved county governments both selling marijuana while trying to enforce its laws against it,' Burke said. 'We felt that would create an awkward conflict of interest.'

Had the measure passed, medical marijuana patients would have been able to possess more of the drug than currently allowed and sell it to other authorized patients.

A broader range of healthcare providers also would have been able to approve medical marijuana applications if voters approved Measure 33.

In 1998, Oregon voters affirmed the OMMA, which allows medical-marijuana cardholders to possess up to three ounces, and three plants, of the drug.

It also gave only medical doctors and osteopaths the ability to approve a patient's application for medical-marijuana card.

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.

Proponents of Measure 33, like medical marijuana user Greg Byers, said the measure's defeat means he and others won't have the kind of access to the alternative, pain-relieving drug that he believes Oregonians need.

'I've taken two calls in the past week from people looking for someone to grow for them,' Byers said. 'Now, it's just going to be harder for them to get their medicine.'

But the Oregon Medical Association, which also opposed Measure 33, said claims of marijuana's effectiveness are too unfounded to expand its use for medicinal purposes.

'It was too broad of a stretch,' said Dr. John Moorehead, president of the OMA. 'We support patient issues and the need for better health services, but this wasn't the way to go about that.'

Oregon is one of nine states that allow medical marijuana.

mmonagha@StatesmanJournal.com or (503) 399-6744

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