Earlier this month concerned campaigners led by the Campaign for Restoration and Regulation of Hemp (CCRH) took over the front steps of the Oregon State Capitol building in Salem, Oregon in an attempt to convey their concerns on the first day of the new session. Five minute speeches were given by business owners, patient advocates, medical patients, cannabis growers and industry-friendly attorneys.
Oregon has a long history with medical cannabis that began in November 1998 when voters said “Yes” to medical marijuana by approving Ballot Measure 67. The vote, which passed into law in December of that year, allowed medical use of marijuana in Oregon including detailed regulations and limitations on cultivation, possession and consumption. Measure 67 also established a state registry and permitting structure.
The Oregon Medical Marijuana Act (OMMA), was intended to provide legal protections for qualifying patients, growers and caregivers within the state; the program requires a statement signed by a physician listing the patient’s qualifying debilitating medical conditions. Many qualifying conditions were included under the program from cancer and HIV to chronic or severe pain. Fees were created to fund the program, including an application fee and grow site registration fee and the average cost of a medical marijuana program card ranges from $200-500 depending on circumstances.
Once established, thousands of Oregonians began populating the medical marijuana program and within a decade a thriving grey area medical market began to take shape. According to state records, at the end of 2014, there were a total of 70,139 patients, 35,064 caregivers, 45,785 growers and 35,765 registered grow sites. The programs fees have led to a budgetary excess for the state of Oregon.
Oregon Measure 91, also known as “The Control, Regulation, and Taxation of Marijuana and Industrial Hemp Act” secured a state wide “Yes” vote in November 2014. This measure legalized adult recreational cannabis use, regulated cultivation, processing, distribution, sales and taxation. Passage of Measure 91 was seen as a great success for the cannabis industry at large. The bill created a framework for legal marijuana use, free from persecution while leaving the existing medical marijuana program unadulterated. Text from the bill specifically stated in section 4: Limitations, subsection (7) that this act may not be construed to “amend or affect in any way the Oregon Medical Marijuana Act.”
This was not the case however, immediately after Measure 91 passed, legislators began convening to create binding regulations and protocols surrounding legalized cannabis. This group became known as the Joint Committee on Implementing Measure 91.
This committee has become the subject of much contention for medical cannabis patients who have become fearful of the end of the medical marijuana program and its eventual absorption into the recreational market. The advent of new fears came with each change. Some of the changes enacted were modifications on cultivation limits; reductions to the amount of cannabis plants allowed to be grown at one time and limits on the numbers of patients per grower. In addition, non-resident, out of state patients were disallowed from gaining access to the OMMP, leaving many patients without their medicine.
On Feb. 8, Paul Stanford, founder of CCRH professed the disappointment in the consistent changes to the OMMP program, wishing that the will of the voters was respected. Michael Mullins, of Stoney Only dispensary, and “Stoney Girl” Jenifer Valley discussed how cancer patients would find the taxed recreational market to be too cost exorbitant when treating their conditions with cannabis oils. Erin Purchase, patient advocate and founder of the Grow Mama project also spoke out about the risk to pediatric cannabis therapy patients and their families should the OMMP fail to survive the implementation of Measure 91. In addition, Megan Phillips, hospice specialist and caregiver told of the already difficult task of finding affordable medicine for her patients, made exceptionally more difficult by the plant count slashes.
What do you think about the changes for medical marijuana in Oregon? Are you affected? Let us know.