Legislators Grapple with Medical Marijuana Rules
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Legislators Grapple with Medical Marijuana Rules
Posted by CN Staff on May 09, 2015 at 04:39:51 PT
By Saul Hubbard, The Register-Guard
Source: Register-Guard
Salem -- State lawmakers are struggling to reach consensus on new restrictions to impose on Oregon’s booming and a largely unregulated medical marijuana program.Many legislators view tougher limits on medical pot as key to successfully implementing the legal recreational marijuana system that voters approved in November. Currently, they say, substantial amounts of marijuana, ostensibly grown in Oregon for the medical program, are in fact sold into the black market, mainly in other states.
“What we’re dealing with here is an entrenched (medical marijuana) program with a lot of problems and a lot of people making a lot of money off of it,” said Sen. Ginny Burdick, D-Portland. “That makes it inherently hard to deal with.”To combat the problem, lawmakers are proposing restrictions that include new limits on the total number of plants allowed per medical marijuana grow site; a mandatory tracking system for most of that marijuana; allowing state health officials to inspect certain grow sites for compliance; and restricting marijuana growing, processing and selling to people who have lived in Oregon for at least two years.But backers of that effort have run into a groundswell of opposition from some involved in the largely unmonitored medical marijuana growing and selling system. Opponents argue that new restrictions will cause patients to lose access to low-cost or free marijuana. Moreover, they say, voters were told during the campaign season that Measure 91, the legalization initiative, would not affect their program.Burdick said that outside of growers who profit from black market sales, some of the fiercest opponents to new regulations this year run clinics that, for a fee, issue medical marijuana cards to patients or help connect patients with growers.Several powerful members of the majority Democrats, however, are skeptical about making significant changes to the medical pot program this session, before the state fully rolls out the recreational market.Pressure to reach a compromise and move forward is mounting.Democratic leaders got personally involved in the negotiations this week, as a special committee of lawmakers tasked with implementing Measure 91 remained deadlocked on several sections of the medical marijuana bill, Senate Bill 844, with dozens of proposed amendments still on the table.The time crunch is heightened by the fact that the debate over SB 844 has meant that the committee has not passed any bills related directly to setting up the legal recreational market, with less than two months left in the scheduled session.Burdick, who leads the Measure 91 committee, said she’ll hold a vote on SB 844 on Monday whether or not enough votes are lined up to pass the bill.“It’s time for action,” she said. “We have agreement on 92 pages of the bill. We have disagreement on three pages. It would be unfortunate for it to fall apart over that.”$1 billion cropBurdick and others say Oregon’s medical marijuana program has grown far beyond the original intent of the program.Almost two decades after its inception, the program continues a rapid growth. Over 71,000 residents hold a medical marijuana card, up from about 50,000 at the start of 2011. New applications hit a four-year high last summer when about 2,500 people applied for medical cards in June and July.Medical marijuana patients are allowed up to six mature plants each. Growers often grow enough plants for multiple patients in the same location, leading to some very large grow sites. Of almost 36,000 registered grow sites statewide, roughly 34,000 are listed as providing marijuana to four or less patients and about 500 say they serve nine or more patients.The only recent study of the program, conducted in 2014 by Oregon State University instructor Seth Crawford through anonymous surveys of farmers, found that licensed medical marijuana growers produce three to five times more marijuana than Oregon’s total estimated marijuana demand of about 140,000 pounds a year. That’s a crop with an annual value of $1 billion, Crawford estimates, for a medical program market that, legally, is not supposed to generate profits for anyone.Under medical marijuana regulations, growers are supposed to function in essence as good Samaritans, growing only what their patients need and charging patients only for the supplies and utility costs of producing the pot, and not for labor, property rent or profit.While no state study has examined the current production for the medical program, even strong supporters acknowledge that growers grow and sell thousands of pounds of excess marijuana into the black market, mostly in other states.Burdick said she didn’t understand the scale of that “leakage” until recently.“Everyone knows that a lot of the people with medical marijuana cards don’t actually have medical needs,” she said. “But this whole situation with the production being so massive and the demand being far less was a real shocker to me.”Growers push back on rulesThat excess production — if left unchecked — would mean significant competition for the new recreational market, lawmakers argue. Restrictions on the medical marijuana program also are necessary, some argue, because the federal government, under a directive known as the “Cole Memo,” requires states with legalized marijuana to maintain a strong regulatory structure to curtail the black market.But the push-back from growers, as well as patients and others involved in the program, has been strong.Organizing online, program advocates have bombarded lawmakers with calls and emails asking for minimal or no changes to the program.Excessive regulations for growers would cause them to migrate to the recreational marijuana market, opponents argue, potentially leaving behind the patients to whom they’ve supplied free or low-cost marijuana for years. Lawmakers aren’t expected to allow growers to cultivate marijuana for the medical program and for recreational sales simultaneously at the same location.“There’s a fine line between regulating and damaging” the program, said Rep. Peter Buckley, an Ashland Democrat who has favored a cautious approach to new rules. “We need to make sure there is enough incentive to ensure growers stay (in the medical market) to provide for patients. … A number of growers were very concerned about being over-regulated and basically having their lives ruined.”Disagreements persistBurdick argues that the package lawmakers are considering in SB 844 is moderate, in part because of push-back from patients and other advocates.For example, lawmakers rejected a so-called “seed-to-sale” approach for constant tracking of all medical marijuana plants and products, which Gov. Kate Brown expressed support for earlier this month. Instead, SB 844 proposes a system in which growers would have to self-report their on-hand product every month and record all their transactions with patients, medical marijuana retailers or dispensaries.The bill would exempt people who only grow medical marijuana for themselves from inspections by health officials, Burdick said.But a handful of key disagreements still persist.The latest version of the bill would limit new individual grow sites to 12 plants in residential areas and 48 plants in rural areas. Existing grows would be allowed double that amount — 24 and 96 plants respectively.Plants grown outdoors produce on average 3 to 5 pounds of marijuana annually. Indoor plants, which are harvested more frequently, can produce 1.5 to 3 pounds a year.Buckley and Sen. Floyd Prozanski, a Eugene Democrat, are pushing for none of the plant limits to kick in until at least the end of 2016, however.Prozanski said no one knows what will happen to Oregon’s marijuana supply once recreational marijuana becomes legal in July. If medical dispensaries are allowed to sell to recreational customers, as is being considered, medical cardholders could be shortchanged, he said.“We have to take moderate steps” with new rules to the medical marijuana program, Prozanski said. “That way, if the regulations help (with black market leakage), great. If not, we can go further at a later date.”But Burdick said a delay in the grow-sites 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.”Another sticking point is whether cities and counties will be allowed to ban medical marijuana dispensaries, or retailers, within their jurisdictions. When dispensaries were first authorized, the Legislature allowed local governments to do so until May 1. Twenty-six counties and 146 cities quickly enacted local bans.Republicans are adamant that they want local governments to have the ability to continue their bans under SB 844.“If the provision isn’t in there, the bill may struggle to pass through the Legislature,” said Andrea Chiapella, a policy analyst for the Senate Republicans.Democrats are divided on the issue and appear unlikely to allow local bans to continue without a public vote, likely on the 2016 general election ballot, instead of just a vote by local elected officials.Buckley said he’s “willing to be flexible” on the issue even though it gives him “a lot of heartburn that we would allow communities to restrict access to a medicine.”“If people of a community are still upset about dispensaries, I’m comfortable with them voting on it,” he said.Lawmakers on both sides of the issue acknowledge that tackling medical marijuana has been more difficult than they anticipated, because of the big dollars now being made in the medical pot program. And the absence of reasonable rules has “contributed to the emergence of a massive black market,” Buckley said.MEDICAL MARIJUANA BILLKey changes Senate Bill 844 would make to Oregon’s medical marijuana program:Grow limitsNew medical pot growers would be limited to 12 plants per address in urban areas, 48 in rural areasExisting growers would be limited to 24 plants per address in urban areas, 96 in rural areasTrackingGrowers would have to report amount of plants and dried marijuana on hand each month, as well as any transfers to patients or sales to dispensariesInspectionOregon Health Authority and Oregon Liquor Control Commission could inspect grow sites, marijuana processing facilities and dispensaries to ensure compliance with rules.Personal grows could not be inspectedPenaltiesAuthority could suspend or revoke grower license for major offenses, levy fines of up to $500 a day.ResidencyGrowers, processors and dispensary owners would have to be residents for at least two years; growers could only grow for patients living in Oregon.Source: Register-Guard, The (OR)Author: Saul Hubbard, The Register-GuardPublished: May 9, 2015Copyright: 2015 The Register-GuardContact: rgletters guardnet.comWebsite: Medical Marijuana Archives 
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Comment #2 posted by Hope on May 10, 2015 at 15:03:37 PT
Why is that a "Problem"?
"A lot of people making a lot of money off of it".How is that so wrong? How, exactly, is that a "Problem"?
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Comment #1 posted by runruff on May 09, 2015 at 21:09:31 PT
legislators grapple...
Pot farmers make bank, who are the stupid ones?
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