Marijuana policymakers need to protect patients (OPINION)

Carolyn Morse, 51, uses medical marijuana to easy symptoms from fibromyalgia, a chronic and debilitating condition. “Now I feel normal,” she said.

Almost exactly a year ago, Oregon voters legalized marijuana. In all, a regulated system is a vast improvement from prohibition, taking profits from gangs and cartels who used to deliver the drug. The Oregon Liquor Control Commission’s draft regulations that were recently released are another step in the right direction toward pushing out the illegal dealers and refocusing law enforcement on stopping violent criminals.

But not enough is being done to follow the will of the voters, including protecting medical marijuana patients. Before I helped author Measure 91 and lead Oregon’s legalization campaign, I spent 12 years advocating for medical marijuana. That work gave me a long and intimate look into the lives of the people who relied on marijuana to treat their ailments. It made me see how we need to ensure patients can access lifesaving medicine.

People often believe medical and recreational marijuana are the same products. They’re not. Some medical marijuana products, like infused glycerin tinctures, don’t even get you high, but they make a huge difference in people’s lives. Although more research needs to be done, it’s clear medical marijuana has a variety of powerful effects, such as stopping epileptic seizures and managing the painful muscle spasms caused by multiple sclerosis.

Oregon patients were pioneers of the legalization movement. They and their families saw firsthand how marijuana could ease their suffering and transform their lives. Their voices made a compelling and compassionate case for more rational drug laws.

Unfortunately, as Oregon’s recreational marijuana industry now begins to push out the criminal market, patients are being lost in the shuffle. In the sausage-making of laws and regulations, too many decision makers are flouting the will of Oregon voters, passing policies and laws that exacerbate the suffering of patients with debilitating diseases.

One bad policy coming out of the Legislature makes medical marijuana more expensive and less accessible. Established, legal medical producers are being forced to cut the number of plants they grow in half. Such an arbitrary change simply doesn’t make sense, especially when growers must report marijuana grown and dispensed to the state and be subject to inspection. Growers should be able to produce enough to support the needs of the patients who rely on them. Medical marijuana is already hard enough to get for many patients, particularly those in poverty. Why would we want to force patients to struggle even more?

I’m also appalled that some government officials are viewing cancer patients and veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder as ATMs. Currently, patients will be forced to pay taxes at recreational retail outlets, and 1,000 foot buffers, like those passed by the Portland City Council, will force out medical dispensaries. OLCC rules then prohibit any discounts for patients in poverty or veterans who have served our country. Patients already pay expensive fees to the state, generating millions of dollars for Oregon since the medical law was passed in 1998. Sick and disabled patients shouldn’t be forced to pay expensive fees and taxes for a medicinal plant that they rely on.

Measure 91 was written specifically to protect the Oregon Medical Marijuana Program, which has been operating effectively for years. As lawmakers and regulators establish new policies that will impact patients, they need to go out of their way to meet with, listen to and address patients’ concerns. Advocates for drug reform also need to do this more often. We voted to legalize marijuana, not take it away from the patients.


November 20, 2015

Anthony Johnson

The Oregonian