When the state’s looking for “additional revenue,” keep an eye on your money. Oregon residents applying for medical marijuana cards will have lighter pocketbooks this month. State fees for the card applications took a dramatic jump on October 1 — and as usual, low-income patients who rely on food stamps and the Oregon Health Plan will be hit the hardest.
A new $50 fee is also being added for cardholders who choose a designated grower to produce their cannabis, rather than growing their own. Those receiving SSI benefits will qualify for a $20 annual fee for designating a grower.
The new rate fee is an increase of more than 600 percent — from the low-income rate of $20 all the way to $150 — for many Oregon cardholders.
That has infuriated medical marijuana advocates like Todd Dalotto, vice chairman of the Oregon Advisory Committee on Medical Marijuana
. Dalotto, who lives in Corvallis, said he’s been hearing from cardholders about the big fee increase.
“There’s been a huge uproar from patients,” Dalotto said. “The unfortunate part is the patients most affected are the least able to raise their voice. They’re the most seriously ill and disabled.”
|Madeline Martinez, OR NORML: “So many patients are low income, it’s difficult to ask them to put even more money into it.”
”It’s always a struggle, especially in this economic time,” said Madeline Martinez of Oregon NORML
, reports Alex Zielinski of The Portland Mercury
. “So many patients are low income, it’s difficult to ask them to put even more money into it.”
“I understand the motivation behind it,” said Iva Cunningham, owner of Portland medical marijuana clinic Alternative Medical Choices
, “but I do know this will force a lot of patients back to the black market.”
As of October 1, Oregon’s medical marijuana program had more than 55,000 cardholders. Participants in the program can grow their own cannabis, and supply it to others at no charge, but no sales are allowed.
Dalotto said he suspects the new fees are more than just an effort to raise revenue. It’s possible that legislators were also looking to reduce the number of cardholders, he said.
A substantial portion — 39 percent — of current medical marijuana cardholders are either on food stamps or the state’s low-cost health plan, Dalotto said. The increased fees will likely force many low-income cardholders to drop the state program and simply use cannabis illegally, he believes.
“It sounds like they are trying to both generate revenue and reduce the patient population,” Dalotto said.
But culling cardholders was never part of the discussion, claimed state Rep. Tina Kotek (D-Portland), who co-chaired a House Joint Committee on Ways and Means subcommittee that proposed the new fees.
“It’s a revenue issue,” Kotek claimed. “This was really about where we could find additional fee revenue.”
There could be significant additional revenue from the fee increase — if it doesn’t result in a mass exodus of patients from the program.
While Oregon Public Health expects a five percent drop in cardholders, Barry Kast of OPH said he’s certain it’s a positive move for the state.
“This is a substantial policy change,” Kast said. “While advocates are outraged by the price hike, the state is becoming more dependent on the program.”
The 2009-11 biennium yielded $5.7 million in marijuana fee revenue. The state is projecting as much as $12.7 million could be collected during the next two years, with the higher fees in place.
While all the cardholder fees previously went to administration of the medical marijuana program itself, now half the money will fund the program and the other half will help pay for a laundry list of other public health initiatives.
You know the drill — politician sees money on the table; politician grabs it.