HTTP/1.0 200 OK Content-Type: text/html Patients Urge Easing Marijuana Law
Pubdate: Tue, 08 May 2001
Source: Register-Guard, The (OR)
Copyright: 2001 The Register-Guard
Author: David Steves, The Register-Guard
Bookmark: (Cannabis - Medicinal)


SALEM - Larry Mull's stroke-induced pain and spasms qualified him to
obtain a medical marijuana card last year. But the retired counselor
soon learned that that didn't mean he'd actually be able to get enough
of the drug to treat his condition.

After a career of counseling people struggling through addictions and
failing relationships, Mull said he knew plenty about dealing with
people. But as for the proper amount of watering or treatment of
spider mites. Or growing from seed vs. growing from cuttings. That was
another story.

"I didn't know anything about plants, and there's an awful lot to
growing," the Salem man told a House panel Monday during the
Legislature's first hearing on a bill to relax several provisions in
the voter-enacted medical marijuana law.

Mull was one of several patients who told the House Rules,
Redistricting and Public Affairs Committee that the law's limit of
three mature marijuana plants puts them at risk of not being able to
produce enough marijuana to treat themselves while also nurturing
along the next crop.

The 1998 law allows patients who qualify for medical marijuana cards
to possess up to 3 ounces at a time - which is what most patients need
to medicate themselves for a period of a month or so, according to
Monday's testimony.

House Bill 3919 would increase the amount to 5 ounces. It would loosen
other provisions of the law as well. It would increase the number of
plants a patient can possess at a time to five mature plants from
three and to five immature plants from four.

The bill also would expand the definition of who qualifies -
currently, those who qualify must have a medical condition listed in
the original version of the law or added later by the Oregon Health
Division. The bill would leave it to the judgment of a health care
provider if they believe a patient "would be benefited by the medical
use of marijuana."

The types of medical care providers who can make patients eligible to
use marijuana for treatment would expand from physicians and
osteopaths to include nurse practitioners and naturopaths.

About 1,600 Oregonians hold cards that allow them to legally use
marijuana to treat specific maladies including cancer, glaucoma,
severe pain or nausea, seizures, muscle spasms, HIV or AIDS.

Stormy Ray, a self-described "disabled Oregon grandmother from
Ontario" who campaigned for passage of the medical marijuana law in
1998, said each medical marijuana cardholder now "has a story of
feeling better because of the medical marijuana law." The two-plus
years since its passage has given these patients the chance to
identify shortcomings that she and others urged lawmakers to address
by passing HB 3919, she said.

Jerry Wade, a medical marijuana user and advocate, said growing an
adequate supply under the legal limits has proved difficult for
patients. He said it takes a year to produce a marijuana garden from
scratch, and that new cardholders don't yet have networks established
with other patients to allow them to obtain marijuana without growing
their own.

"The only alternative most of these patients have is turning to the
black market," he said. "To go into these situations, they're putting
themselves at risk of being robbed or worse."

Two state officials testified against the bill. Barbara Cimaglio,
director of the state Office of Alcohol & Drug Abuse Programs, argued
that the Legislature would send the wrong message to young people by
expanding the number of patients who might qualify to use marijuana
medicinally. While Cimaglio told the panel she was unaware of drug
abuse by patients, she said literature indicates that "favorable
community attitudes toward drugs" can lead to increased drug abuse,
and that relaxing the medical marijuana law might have that effect.

Sgt. Larry Welty, who does narcotics work for Oregon State Police,
warned lawmakers that by allowing medical marijuana patients to grow
and possess larger quantities of marijuana, the state would heighten
the risk of marijuana being diverted into the illegal drug market.
Welty, the president of the Oregon Narcotics Enforcement Association,
cited a case this year in Lane County in which the multiagency drug
team seized 164 marijuana plants from a suspect who possessed a
medical marijuana card.

The committee's chairman, Carl Wilson, R-Grants Pass, said he would
allow the panel to work on the bill and vote it to the House floor if
members agree that they want to deal with it. Personally, Wilson said,
he had misgivings about several components of the bill - particularly
the expansion of types of medical providers who could authorize
patients to obtain marijuana cards and the loosening of eligibility
for patients. The one area he said that he may support would be to
increase the number of plants that patients could possess.

Wilson acknowledged that his willingness to take up the issue marked
an evolution in his own views on medical marijuana.

"I've always opposed the law, but I've begun to change in the last
couple years, primarily due to the escalating cost of pharmaceutical
drugs," he said. 
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