[**Breaking news on May 13, 2015: According to The Weed Blog, an online publication based in Portland, Oregon, SB 844 has failed and the bill is, as stands, dead.]
Although Oregon legalized medical marijuana 17 years ago (it was the second state, following California, to do so), it is now in the process of revising its regulations and possibly imposing tighter rules on its program. With voters having recently legalized recreational cannabis, lawmakers in the state are worried that marijuana supposedly intended for sick Oregonians is being channeled into the black market and ending up in the pipes of recreational consumers in other states.
To combat these issues, legislators are considering new limits on the number of plants that can be home cultivated by patients, a mandatory tracking system for all cannabis grown in the state, and a requirement that those involved in cultivation, processing/manufacturing, or retail sales be a resident of Oregon for at least two years. All of these regulations are embodied in SB 844, the bill currently making its way through Oregon’s legislature.
Opponents Speak Out
Opponents of these plans are coming out in droves in the progressive state. They claim that some reforms being discussed could increase prices for the sick. Patients and the entrepreneurs serving them are also frustrated that changes are being discussed whatsoever. They were told during campaign season that the passage of legal recreational pot would have no effect on the state’s medicinal program.
Some politicians want to see Oregon’s recreational market become more mature before making any changes to the medical program. Sen. Floyd Prozanski, a Eugene Democrat, believes that the effect of legal recreational marijuana is unknown. He is worried that, if medical dispensaries are allowed to sell to recreational customers (something being considered), this may result in medical users paying more or otherwise being penalized. Prozanski explained:
“We have to take moderate steps. That way, if the regulations help with black market leakage, great. If not, we can go further at a later date.”
However, some politicians are calling for clarifications and revisions to the medical program in order to implement Measure 91, the recently passed recreational law.
The bill, as it currently stands, limits new individual grow sites to 12 plants in residential areas and 48 plants in rural gardens. Existing grows would be allowed double this amount. Sen. Prozanski is proposing that none of the plant limits go into effect until the end of 2016. However, Sen. Ginny Burdick, a Democrat from Portland, said a delay in these limits “is a nonstarter” in the Senate. “We’ve been very generous in plant allocations,” she said. “That’s a huge amount of marijuana per grow site.”
There are other serious topics of contention as the bill moves forward. A major issue, especially in terms of providing citizens with safe access, is the ability of cities and counties to ban dispensaries (as has been common in both Colorado and Oregon). When medical marijuana was first approved in Oregon and dispensaries began to appear, the state allowed municipal and county governments to prohibit reefer retailers in their own communities for a period of several months. During that time, local bans were enacted by 146 municipalities and 26 counties.
Despite such areas of debate for Oregon’s lawmakers, its medical program continues to grow at a rapid pace. More than 70,000 residents now hold official medical cards. The state boasts 36,000 registered cannabis grow sites, 34,000 of which provide medicine for four or fewer patients. 500 of these registered grow facilities generate medicine for nine or more patients. Some fear that more regulation would cause medical growers to shift to the recreational market, abandoning patients within the state who have been receiving free or low-cost marijuana for nearly two decades.
Oregon’s current medical marijuana program, in effect since 1998, covers the following conditions:
- Alzheimer’s disease
- Chronic pain
- HIV or AIDS
- Multiple Sclerosis
- Post-traumatic stress
- Other conditions are subject to approval