Oregon is in danger of taking a big step back with its medical marijuana program just as its recreational regime moves forward. As part of the rollout of legalization regulations, the state legislature is considering a bill that would severely limit the ability of patients and providers to grow their own medicine.
Oregon was the first state in the nation to decriminalize cannabis possession in 1973 and voters passed a medical legalization measure in 1998. But changes are afoot, proposed by the Measure 91 Committee within the state Senate, which is named after the ballot issue last November when Oregon residents voted to legalize and regulate marijuana for recreational purposes.
The committee is apparently worried that excess marijuana produced by medical providers will then be sold on the black market, thus escaping the new tax and regulatory regime that the state is attempting to implement. Lawmakers also expressed concern that the federal government would intervene in their program if pot were being sold for purposes other than which it was grown.
The Oregon Liquor Control Commission claims that three quarters of the cannabis ostensibly grown for medicinal use is instead sold illegally.
Among the restrictions that Senate Bill 936 would bring, compiled by Alex Rogers of Ashland Alternative Health, who is leading a campaign to protest the bill:
- Starting on March 1, 2016, grow sites in residential areas will only be able to grow for 2 patients maximum (12 plants); non-residential locations will only be able to grow for 8 total (48 plants).
- Growers will be subjected to a fee and inspections (even for personal grows).
- Growers will have to report monthly to the state and keep records up to 7 years.
- Any violation of the rules allows OHA to contact law enforcement.
According to the Oregonian, there are 282 large grow sites that currently provide medicine to 11 patients or more, so the bill would mean that thousands of people would be left empty handed or looking for a new provider.
The state’s medical marijuana program includes 71,191 patients, 35,633 caregivers, 46,037 growers and 34,903 grow sites in total, according to the Oregon Health Authority’s latest statistical snapshot from April. Marijuana becomes legal for all adults age 21 and over on July 1, while commercial grow licenses are expected to be issued next year.
Last month patients and growers descended on the state capitol to protest the proposed restrictions. “It will fall on the most vulnerable patients who are battling poverty, who will lose their grower,” Anthony Johnson, chief sponsor of the Measure 91 campaign, said to the Oregonian. “I encourage oversight in growing but not to restrict patients’ access.”
Clamping down on medical growers wouldn’t address the black market problem that lawmakers are worried about anyway, advocates argued. “That would lead to a massive shortage,” said one patient at a hearing for the measure, the Oregonian reported. “There is plenty of room for [recreationally grown] marijuana to leak out into the black market.”
Oregon has been in the medical marijuana business for a long time now, but meddling lawmakers still seem to be searching for ways to burden and disrupt the program.
“While sensible regulations and oversight of the Oregon Medical Marijuana Program is an honorable goal, SB 936 simply goes too far, costing too many patients their medicine and putting too much of a burden on medical providers,” the Salem News argued in an editorial.
“The Oregon Medical Marijuana Program is a SUCCESS. We have proven that it is possible to work together and do what’s right for our citizens. And yet, this bill seems to be set on tearing it apart.”