Pubdate: Sun, 3 Oct 2010
Source: Mail Tribune, The (Medford, OR)
Copyright: 2010 The Mail Tribune
Note: Only prints LTEs from within it's circulation area
Author: Paul Fattig
Bookmark: (Measure 74)


Measure 74 Supporters Say State-Regulated Supply Would Aid Medical 
Marijuana Users

If Melanie Barniskis doesn't take her medicine each night, chances 
are she won't be able to walk the next day.

"Without it, I can't get out of bed to get the day started," said 
Barniskis, 54, of Phoenix. "When there is a pain flare, it's as if 
someone is driving two red-hot pokers into my feet and lower calves."

To ease the pain, Barniskis, a former 9-1-1 emergency dispatcher for 
the Bethel Police Department in Alaska, drinks a tincture of 
marijuana or munches a "medible" -- a baked goodie containing pot.

Barniskis is one of more than 36,000 medical marijuana cardholders in 
Oregon and 4,000 in Jackson County who use marijuana to treat pain, 
nausea, cancer symptoms and other ailments.

But Barniskis, who has been diagnosed with bilateral peripheral 
neuropathy, a condition that fills her lower extremities with acute 
pain, said the limitations in the current system make it difficult 
for her to meet her medical marijuana needs.

That's why she supports Measure 74 on the Nov. 2 ballot, which would 
create a state-regulated supply system for adults through nonprofit 
medical marijuana dispensaries. It would provide a backup in the 
event she runs out of her legal stash, she said.

"Last year I had a grower and harvested a pound and a half of usable 
marijuana in November -- I've been eking it out to last until this 
year's harvest," she said, noting she's tried numerous other 
medicines with no relief and too many negative side effects.

She's been using medical marijuana since moving to Southern Oregon 
two years ago. Her husband, Roger Blakesley, 58, who also has a 
medical marijuana card, is growing it for both of them this year.

"At least 30 percent of the people who have gotten (medical 
marijuana) cards are out of luck when they need to buy legal 
cannabis," she said. "So they get it off the street -- the black market."

Under Measure 74, medical marijuana dispensaries would be regulated 
by the Department of Human Services. Growers and dispensaries would 
pay a 10 percent fee on all income plus a $1,000 and $2,000 annual 
licensing fee, respectively, to fund the program. It also would 
provide assistance for low-income cardholders to obtain medical marijuana.

Opponents worry the measure is too vague, leaving it up to 
administrators to decide the maximum number of dispensaries, 
penalties for infractions and record-keeping requirements. Nearly 
half the members of a state Citizens' Initiative Review panel worried 
the increased availability of marijuana would invite illegal activity 
and concluded that Measure 74 is a "thinly veiled attempt to legalize 
marijuana (and) has a high probability of being abused." (To see the 
full report, go to .)

Proponents say the measure might not be perfect, but it addresses the 
major problem with the current system: lack of a reliable supply.

"Measure 74 is the only thing that is going to keep our medical 
marijuana law functioning as it should," Barniskis said. "Passage 
would ease up on that constant fear of running out of medicine. It 
would provide safe, reliable places for people to go for their medicine."

Bob Wolfe of Oregon Healthcare Consulting, a patient advocacy group 
based in Portland, said the number of patients seeking legal 
marijuana for medicinal purposes in Oregon far exceeds the legal supply.

"This measure will definitely help patients who can't get medical 
marijuana now except through the black market," he said. "The last 
thing you want is grandma stricken with cancer buying from a gang member."

Measure 74 proponents say the amount of legal weed being grown in the 
state is about 30 percent less than the demand by cardholders.

Under the Oregon Medical Marijuana Act, approved by voters in 1998, 
cardholders must grow their own medical marijuana or have it grown 
for them by a licensed grower. A legal grower may provide six mature 
marijuana plants, 18 starts or seedlings and 24 ounces of usable 
marijuana each for up to four people.

With Measure 74, each dispensary or grower may possess 24 mature 
marijuana plants, 72 starts or seedlings and 6 pounds of usable 
marijuana. However, those amounts could be changed by administrative rule.

Unlike a law enacted in California in 1996 that left licensing to 
local governments, Measure 74 specifically instructs the state to 
license and monitor dispensaries.

The measure has been endorsed by the likes of former Oregon Supreme 
Court Justice and Gov. Betty Roberts, former Portland Police Chief 
and Mayor Tom Potter, and former federal prosecutor Kristine Olson, 
who was the U.S. attorney for the District of Oregon.

It is supported by the Oregon chapter of National Organization of the 
Reform of Marijuana Laws, Voter Power, Oregon Green Free and 
Pro-Oregon, all nonprofit marijuana advocacy groups.

Anthony Johnson, a co-chief petitioner and co-author of the measure, 
says the central goal is to improve the Oregon Medical Marijuana Act.

"Having to turn to the black market is risky business for anyone, let 
alone a sick patient," he said. "Too many patients now are being 
forced to go without medical care.

"The program would also be self-funding, and it would generate 
millions in revenue for Oregon health programs," he added.

The state agency would closely monitor and regulate the program, he 
said, adding that administrative adjustments would be made as needed 
with input from legislators and others.

Back in Phoenix, Melanie Barniskis said she didn't ever anticipate 
she would be using marijuana for pain relief. Before moving to 
Alaska, she had been a high school English teacher in New Jersey.

The problems with her lower extremities began in 2005 in Alaska when 
she developed deep sores that opened up on both feet, causing nerve 
damage, she said. The cause of the ailment was never specifically 
diagnosed, she said.

"They had me on all the regular narcotics available," she said. "But 
none of it was effective. And the side effects of some were worse 
than the actual pain."

As the 9-1-1 operator for Bethel police for four years, she had to be 
alert, she said, noting that at night the emergency dispatcher did 
double duty, serving the Alaska state troopers. Bethel is a remote 
town about 400 air miles west of Anchorage at the mouth of the Yukon River.

"I couldn't work if my mind was fogged out," she said, referring to 
the side effects of pain pills prescribed by medical doctors. "At 
night, we covered an area about the size of Oregon."

Because of health reasons, the couple moved to Southern Oregon, where 
she began researching the medicinal properties of marijuana. It 
provided the relief she sought, she said.

Now they have a dozen marijuana plants growing in their backyard. 
Each one is tagged appropriately.

"We wanted to make sure everything is totally legal," she stressed, 
adding, "I never thought I'd be doing this. But the pain limits my 
mobility. The medicinal marijuana is extremely effective to stop the pain."

The administrative assistant at Ashland Alternative Health said she 
consumes the medical pot each evening when she gets home from work.

"The evening is when the pain is at its worst," she said.

Unless she takes her marijuana medication, the pain keeps her awake 
nights, making it impossible for her to work the next day, she said.

"I've gone from law enforcement to becoming a medicinal cannabis 
user," she said. "I've seen both sides. I can't deny there is abuse.

"But I've been converted into a complete believer because I know it 
alleviates my pain," she added. 
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