Pubdate: Sat, 27 Sep 2008
Source: Ashland Daily Tidings (OR)
Copyright: 2008 Ashland Daily Tidings
Author: Hannah Guzik, Tidings correspondent
Cited: Voter Power
Bookmark: (Marijuana - Medicinal)


In Oregon, legally smoking "green" requires a green thumb, or knowing
someone who does.

Medical marijuana cardholders -- even those who are terminally ill --
must grow their own marijuana or find someone else to grow it for
them, according to state law.

But some local activists are aiming to change that. Voter Power, a
medical marijuana activist group with an office in Medford, plans to
put a measure on a 2010 ballot to create dispensaries in Oregon,
similar to those in California.

"Currently, we have the grower-caregiver patient system, but a lot of
patients do not have access to their medicine," said Alex Rogers,
outreach coordinator for Voter Power, who works in Jackson County.
"They don't have the time or money to grow their own, nor are they
connected to someone who does."

Voter Power, which led efforts to legalize medical marijuana 1998,
hopes to create a limited number of nonprofit dispensaries where
cardholders can receive marijuana.

Under the plan, licensed growers would sell marijuana to the
dispensaries, where it will be distributed either at a minimal cost or
for free. Customers would need a valid Oregon Medical Marijuana
Program card to receive marijuana from dispensaries.

The dispensaries would be taxed and the money would go to other health
department programs and help to fund research into medical marijuana,
Rogers said. A health department regulated program would also be
implemented to help patients get access to marijuana.

Voter Power is collecting signatures for its initiative, which was
finalized in August, before it can be placed on an upcoming ballot.

If the dispensary system is approved, patients will still be able to
grow their own marijuana or select a grower, Rogers said.

"We have a two part strategy -- make the best of the current law and
at the same time work for a better law," said John Sajo, Voter Power's
executive director. "The OMMA (Oregon Medical Marijuana Program) has
done pretty well at stopping most patients from being arrested, but it
has not really addressed how the patients are supposed to get their

Rogers said only half of the 20,000 cardholders in Oregon have safe
access to medical marijuana.

Dispensaries are prohibited under current law. The Medical Marijuana
Program explains, "There is no place in the State of Oregon to legally
purchase medical marijuana."

But in California, where dispensaries are legal in many cities,
hundreds of pot shops have sprung up, offering a variety of stains of
marijuana and tinctures. Oregon residents should have access to the
same array of choices, Rogers said.

However, in recent years the federal Drug Enforcement Administration
has raided California dispensaries, in efforts to stop distribution of
the drug, which it considers illegal.

"There's problem in California with dispensaries getting shut down on
a regular basis," said Sgt. Scott Schuster with the Ashland Police
Department. "It's possible that could start happening here."

Schuster said he doesn't believe the federal government has so far
intervened in Oregon medical marijuana growing operations.

Rogers said the Oregon initiative would avoid potential federal
government raids by strictly regulating dispensaries, ensuring that
they pay taxes and operate as nonprofits.

"We feel that if we have a more uniform statewide system it will at
least hedge our bets as best as possible. Of course anything can
happen, but we've done everything we can to prevent what's happening
in California," he said.

Neil Buettner, a registered medical marijuana grower who lives just
outside Ashland, said he supports the Voter Power initiative because
it would add stability to the system.

"I do think the dispensaries are a good idea. In the past, there have
been problems where growers will tell patients that they're going to
do this and that, and then they don't. And also, patients can change
their growers without ever contacting them, so the grower can be
violating the law and not even know it," he said.

The dispensary system would help eliminate those problems, Buettner

"I guess the way I understand the new proposition, we got this bill
passed the first time, and then (Voter Power) figured out over 10
years what we can do better," he said. 
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MAP posted-by: Richard Lake