Advocates Say Oregon Medical Marijuana Dispensaries Needed


Photo: Christopher Onstott/Portland Tribune
A West Linn, Oregon marijuana grower, who asked to remain anonymous, tends the crop he grows for a number of cardholding patients. The grower said he plans to open several medical marijuana dispensaries and farms statewide if Ballot Measure 74 passes in November.

​Almost everyone who has offered an opinion on Oregon’s medical marijuana program — whether they support or oppose it — agrees that, one way or the other, the program needs fixing.

Activist John Sajo, a co-author of Ballot Measure 74, which would legalize medical marijuana dispensaries in the state, said the measure would go a long way towards doing that, reports Peter Korn of the Portland Tribune.
Medical marijuana advocates, including Sajo, executive director of pro-cannabis organization Voter Power, contend that as many as half of the state’s almost 40,000 cardholding patients have trouble consistently getting the medicine they are entitled to for pain relief.
That’s because the initial ballot measure that legalized medical marijuana in Oregon — passed by voters in 1998 — gave patients the right to grow their own, or designate a grower for them. But in a bit of impractical thinking, the original ballot measure said that growers could not be paid for the cannabis they supply to cardholders.
John Sajo, Voter Power: “Oregon needs to create a regulated system so that every patient can access quality controlled medicine”

​Which, law enforcement claims, is one of the reasons for what they claim is a big problem with the existing medical marijuana program — its ability to provide cover for growers who are illegally supplying the black market. Many of those suppliers, they claim, are growing large black market crops, but are kept beyond the reach of the law because they can show they have been authorized as legal growers by medical marijuana cardholders.
Measure 74 would address the supply problem by allowing privately run medical marijuana dispensaries to become established throughout Oregon. These shops would sell marijuana to authorized patients, and get their marijuana from state-licensed cannabis growers.
Measure 74 would also direct the state to set up a system under which low-income cardholders could access reduced-priced marijuana. The measure additionally authorizes state officials to fund research on medical cannabis.
The measure does not specify how much revenue the state must apportion to those two efforts, however. Supporters have estimated that revenue from the program could bring $20 million into state tax coffers each year. Growers and dispensaries will pay license fees, and 10 percent of their income will go to the state.
Our of that, the Health Department would take money to run the program; the rest could return to the state’s general fund.
State health officials have estimated there may be as many as 246 dispensaries around Oregon within four years if Measure 74 passes. But both supporters and detractors of the ballot measure agree that nobody really knows for sure.
Law enforcement officials, predictably lobbying against the measure, point to California, their favorite “bad example,” where a vaguely worded city ordinance allowed more than 800 dispensaries to flourish in Los Angeles alone.
But there is also danger in having too few dispensaries, according to Sajo.
In New Mexico, only about a dozen dispensaries have been licensed, and Sajo said each of those shops sells its entire stock of marijuana as soon as it is available, leaving many patients without access to cannabis.
It’s unlikely that a Los Angeles-style dispensary environment could erupt in Oregon, Sajo said.
“The idea that there will just be a proliferation of fly-by-night operations is unfounded,” Sajo said. “If they (state health authorities) make rules tough enough, that will inherently limit the number.”
Growers and dispensaries will be required to record all transactions, which will then be reviewed by the state Department of Human Services public health division, which will also oversee the program.
“To presume there’s going to be too many and they will be out of control, causing problems, assumes the Health Department is going to be asleep at the wheel,” Sajo said.
Measure 74 finally brings the state oversight to the medical marijuana program that law enforcement officials have been seeking, according to Sajo.
“We think law enforcement should like this proposal,” he said.
But, you guessed it — they don’t. The associations representing Oregon’s sheriffs, chiefs of police and district attorneys all dutifully and drearily fell into line, formally opposing Measure 74.
It seems obvious that the reason is that Measure 74 does not give law enforcement any role in overseeing the medical marijuana program, sensibly leaving that to the Department of Human Services’ health program.
The measure doesn’t specify how many dispensaries and marijuana farms will be allowed, or exactly where they will be placed, other than the rule that they cannot be located within 1,000 feet of a school or in a residential neighborhood.