Pubdate: Mon, 12 Oct 2015
Source: Daily Astorian, The (OR)
Copyright: 2015 The Daily Astorian
Author: Hillary Borrud


The Oregon Health Authority, which manages the state's medical pot 
program, probably does not have data on numbers of plants at grow 
sites at the end of 2014. This surprised lawmakers, who passed a bill 
earlier this year allowing those grow sites to be grandfathered in 
with more plants than otherwise allowed.

SALEM - Oregon public health officials are running into difficulty 
implementing a law that legislators passed earlier this year to gain 
control over the largely unregulated medical marijuana supply chain 
and prevent drug traffickers from diverting pot into the black market 
in other states.

A top official at the Oregon Health Authority told lawmakers last 
week the agency might not have the data necessary to implement a key 
provision of the new law aimed at curtailing huge pot grows that have 
blossomed in the state's medical program.

Starting in March, the law limits medical marijuana grows to 12 
mature plants in city residential zones and 48 plants in other city 
zones and rural areas. The Legislature included a provision to 
grandfather in some of the larger grows that existed on Dec. 31, 
2014, with total plants in these gardens capped at 24 in urban 
residential zones and 96 plants in all other urban and rural zones.

Priscilla Lewis, deputy director of the authority's Public Health 
Division, told lawmakers during a Sept. 30 hearing that employees at 
the agency might not be able to figure out how many plants each 
medical marijuana grow site had on Dec. 31, 2014.

"I believe we have limited ability to do that," Lewis said. "We would 
certainly be willing to give it our best shot. But we have discussed 
this previously, and I can't remember the limitations on the data, 
but there are some limitations on the data as we currently collect it."

Lewis was responding to a question from state Sen. Ginny Burdick, 
D-Portland, co-chair of the Joint Interim Committee On Marijuana 
Legalization and one of the legislators who worked on the law to 
regulate the medical marijuana industry. Lewis' answer appeared to 
take Burdick by surprise.

"We put it in the legislation people could not have the increased 
plant counts, unless they had the larger number effective Dec 31, 
2014," Burdick said. "Are you saying that that was a meaningless restriction?"

Lewis demurred, saying " I don't have a further answer, but we can 
get you a further answer."

Shannon O'Fallon, a senior assistant attorney general who advises the 
health authority, said health authority employees who manage Oregon's 
medical marijuana program know they need to figure out which grow 
sites qualify to be grandfathered in with higher plant numbers. They 
simply have not completed that data analysis, O'Fallon said.

"I just don't know that they have those numbers right now, and would 
be able to tell which grow sites would be limited and which ones 
wouldn't," O'Fallon said during the legislative meeting.

The health authority tracks data on the numbers of medical marijuana 
patients connected to grow sites around the state.

In the current medical marijuana program, cardholders can have six 
mature plants and 18 immature plants at any one time. Cardholders 
also have the option of hiring a grower to produce the crop under the 
same limits.

Each grower can serve four patients, which would a single grower 
could have up to 24 plants. In practice, multiple growers are often 
registered at a single garden through a practice known as card stacking.

The Oregonian reported earlier this year the largest grow site in the 
state serves 104 medical pot patients. The newspaper also reported 
all the Oregon medical marijuana patients supposedly served by the 
site lived in California, mostly in the southern portion of the state.

The health authority never inspected medical marijuana grow sites and 
does not have the regulatory authority to do so, agency spokesman 
Jonathan Modie wrote in an email. The agency will gain the authority 
to inspect grow sites when that portion of the new law takes effect in March.

As a result, it appears regulators do not know the actual numbers of 
plants at grow sites around the state on Dec. 31, 2014. A week after 
Burdick raised the question at the legislative hearing, the health 
authority is still working on an answer.

"The Oregon Public Health Division is developing a system that would 
allow it to create a list of medical marijuana grow sites that may 
qualify to be "grandfathered" under (House Bill) 3400 and permitted 
to have additional plants," Modie wrote in an email. "Options being 
discussed include working with the Oregon Health Authority's 
information systems staff to develop a database query on grow site 
addresses that would qualify, and requiring persons responsible for 
grow sites to petition the (Oregon Medical Marijuana Program) to be a 
grandfathered grow site. Discussions on this issue are ongoing."

The health authority would not reveal who is involved in those discussions.

The agency is responsible for implementing many other regulations in 
the new law, including a system that will for the first time track 
the medical marijuana supply from growers to processors and 
dispensaries. It's unclear whether the agency has made progress on 
the tracking system, because Lewis and Modie declined to provide any 
information on it.

Lawmakers had hoped that once marijuana became legal in July for all 
Oregonians age 21 and older, people who previously enrolled in the 
medical marijuana program because it was the only legal option to 
possess pot would opt for the state's new recreational pot system.

People have to pay for annual doctor's visits and application fees to 
remain in the medical marijuana program, but some clinics that 
specialize in helping people qualify for the program tout the larger 
possession limits, both for plants and usable marijuana, as reasons 
people should choose the medical pot program.

"We have heard that there has been a spike of some degree in the 
medical cards and you kind of wonder why that's happening, since we 
really expected to see a decline as people who were truly 
recreational users didn't need to have the expense or time to get a 
card," Burdick said. In the end, Burdick asked health authority staff 
to report back to lawmakers in November with answers about the plant 
limits and other issues.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom