|Graphic: Medical Marijuana Hut
Budget-strapped Oregon lawmakers may have decided to tap the state’s popular medical marijuana program for an estimated $7 million to fund other health programs, doubling the annual fee charged medical marijuana patients from $100 to $200.
If there’s a silver lining to that cloud, it’s the fact that in so doing, the legislators have also decided to reject a whole pile of bills that would have made it much harder for people in the state to get a medical marijuana card. Some members of Oregon’s medical marijuana community, even as they cry foul at the doubling of patient fees, believe it may move the state one step closer to their goal of bringing medicinal cannabis into the mainstream economy, reports Jonathan J. Cooper at CNBC.
“It’s not good for patients,” said Christine McGarvin, a member of the state’s Medical Marijuana Advisory Committee. “I do appreciate the politics of it.”
With law enforcement predictably repeating their brainless mantra that “medical marijuana is out of control,” the Legislature looked at more than a dozen bills aimed at reining in one aspect or another of the state’s cannabis program, which took effect in 1999 after being approved by voters the previous year. Eventually, a team of three former state troopers — surprise, surprise! — tried to pull a Montana, coming up with a bill that would have made it all but impossible for doctors to recommend, or patients to get, the herb.
|Photo: Northwest Harley Blog
|Rep. Andy Olson: One of those mean-assed Republicans who wants to take medical marijuana away from sick Oregonians
But that bill died a much-deserved death in committee — at least this legislative session. Rep. Andy Olson (R-Albany), a former state police lieutenant and one of those mean-ass Republicans that apparently somehow gets his rocks off denying suffering people the medication they need, said he plans to “work on the issue” through the summer and fall and bring back a similarly dumb-assed bill next year.
Meanwhile, last week a Ways and Means subcommittee approved doubling the $100 annual fee for medical marijuana patients, and imposing a new $200 feet on growers who are not already patients. The $20 discount for low-income people receiving food stamps and state medical coverage will be eliminated, and will be available only to patients on Social Security.
The $7 million raised will go to other programs within the cash-hungry Oregon Health Authority, including clean water, emergency medical care, and school health centers, according to those who profess to know such things.
But the fee hike still needs the approval of the full House and Senate before becoming law.
if the measure does gain full approval as part of Oregon’s budget, the fee increases will take effect July 1.
Rep. Tim Freemaan (R-Freeman) claimed he wouldn’t call the medical marijuana program a “cash cow,” but admitted that the additional revenue is being used to subsidize “unrelated services.”
The Oregon Health Authority had already planned to increase medical marijuana program fees, but decided to hike them even higher — as in doubling the damned things — to help fill a budget gap created by Gov. John Kitzhaber’s recommended budget, which left a gaping hole in public health funding.
As of April, about 40,000 Oregonians held medical marijuana patient cards at $100 apiece, raising about $4 million a year.
Medical marijuana advocates said doubling the fee amounts to an unfair tax on some of Oregon’s poorest citizens.
“We managed to escape, I thought, without any changes to the program,” said Bob Wolfe of the Oregon Marijuana Policy Initiative. “All of a sudden, out of nowhere, we get this stealth tax on the poorest people in Oregon.”
But Paul Stanford, president of The Hemp and Cannabis Foundation (THCF), based in Portland, who is gathering signatures for a marijuana legalization initiative for the 2012 Oregon ballot, said the budget measure bodes well for the eventual legalization of cannabis.
Morgan Fox, communications director of the Marijuana Policy Project, based in Washington, D.C., said Oregon was following the lead of states like Colorado and Vermont, which have been gradually putting marijuana under more state control while preserving patient access.
“If we are willing to realize it is legitimate to tax patients to fund social programs, we should e willing to see it is legitimate enough to open it up as an industry,” Fox said.