Pubdate: Fri, 13 Feb 2009
Source: World, The (Coos Bay, OR)
Copyright: 2009 Southwestern Oregon Publishing Company
Author: Sara Davenport
Bookmark: (Cannabis - Medicinal)


For Coos Bay resident Jude Isaacson, obtaining a medical marijuana 
card was a dramatic turning point in her life.

Isaacson had back surgery in 2000, and consequently developed a 
severe staff infection in her spine. As a result, Isaacson now has 
neurological damage, and in medical marijuana, said she has found a 
way to cope with each day.

"Two years ago, I was mostly in a wheelchair, had no energy and was 
very depressed. Not anymore," Isaacson said.

Isaacson also suffers from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder she 
believes is the result of working 16 years as a 911 Dispatcher for 
the Coos Bay Police Department. She bowed out from her position, 
unable to take any more of the drama that clouded each day on the job.

"Cannabis has brought me back. I can focus now," she said.

She is one of the 755 Oregon Medical Marijuana Program patients in 
Coos County and is concerned about an effort to curtail medical 
marijuana rights. A business lobbying group is pushing a bill in the 
Oregon Legislature (Senate Bill 2497) to exempt employers from having 
to accommodate medical marijuana patients.

Plainly put, if an employee, who is legally authorized to medicate 
himself with marijuana, tests positive, it would be grounds for termination.

Advocates for The Drugfree Workplace Legislative Work Group are also 
working to banish some conditions that qualify patients, restrict 
approval of new conditions and require employers notification when a 
worker applies for a marijuana card.


J.L. Wilson, vice president of government affairs for Associated 
Oregon Industries, sees medical marijuana as a liability for employers.

"Cardholders bring up a whole host of issues. None of which are good 
for business," he said.

Wilson says that AOI has a council of about 30 companies, and many 
employers have horror stories about employing medical marijuana users 
and impairment on the job.

"In Oregon, employers are forced to accommodate something that's 
federally illegal," Wilson says. "It's a tough situation."

Mimi Bushman, director of WorkDrugFree Oregon, said drugs are a 
tremendous social problem.

"It's not just about safety. It's a productivity issue," Bushman 
said. " Six billion dollars is the annual cost to Oregon for 
substance abuse. Four billion of those dollars is just in lost 
productivity. If you think about it, that's what we're paying for the 
entire kindergarten through twelfth grade education system in the state."

Wayne Haythorn, associate of Mother Against Misuse and Abuse, 
contends all of the changes the group is proposing are designed to 
stir up fear, cripple the program and punish patients.

"I do not believe this bill is going to pass. It failed last time and 
it will fail again," Haythorn said.

Bushman said Oregon is ranked higher than most states in indicators 
of substance abuse in the nation for workers. She said when her 
organization held forums around the state, most employers showed 
sympathy about patients needing pain relief, but ultimately, they 
were concerned about compassion conflicting with their employee drug policies.


The Oregon Occupational Safety & Health Administration statistics 
seem to conflict, too. The administration's findings show a decrease 
in workplace accident rates every year since the Oregon Medical 
Marijuana Program went into effect. From 2000-06, the leading cause 
of workplace fatalities was heart attack and cardiac arrest. 
OR-OSHA's list does not reflect any findings of workplace fatalities 
due to impairment.

Health care providers can find it tough to straddle the line between 
the law and providing the relief patients need. Dr. Michelle Petrofes 
of Dunes Family Medical Clinic in Reedsport treats six medical 
marijuana patients now through strict criteria. She said she has to 
have an active care relationship with patients and that they have to 
have tried every other medication available first.

"I don't just sign forms. It's not my first line of treatment by any 
means," Petrofes said. "Some patients I took care of between 15 and 
20 years before I would sign their cards for them."

Dr. Daniel Rusu, physical medicine and pain management expert at 
North Bend Medical Center, said a huge population of his patients 
request to be prescribed medical marijuana, but most don't qualify.

Still, "more than 70 percent of my patients test positive for 
marijuana. Most of them don't have cards," he said.

Rusu believes the battle over marijuana will continue, whether for 
medical or recreational purposes.

"There's a contradiction between the Drug Enforcement Agency and 
Oregon law right now," he said. "I do respect the law, so I advocate 
for it if patients have tried other medications that haven't worked for them."



What: The Drugfree Workplace Legislative group is pushing for House 
Bill 2497 to pass. It would clarify that employers are not required 
to accommodate medical marijuana in the workplace under the Oregon 
Medical Marijuana Program.

The program: Allows more than 3,000 Oregon doctors to approve 
prescriptions for cardholders aiming to alleviate chronic pain.

Statistically: Voters approved the Medical Marijuana Program in 1998. 
There are 20,000 cardholders in the state, with more than 750 in Coos 
County, 295 in Curry County and 1,258 in Douglas County.

Oregon OSHA

Associate Oregon Industries

Mothers Against Misuse and Abuse
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom