GUEST VIEWPOINT: Measure 74 would create needed marijuana dispensaries
By John Sajo
Oregon's Measure 74 will create the best system in America for providing safe, legal and highly regulated access to medical marijuana for qualified patients. The measure creates a system of nonprofit dispensaries, much like pharmacies. It will bring order, transparency and accountability to a program that now serves approximately 40,000 ill, disabled and suffering Oregonians.
The time has come to address these patients' needs, and to place compassion and common sense above political infighting and cynicism. To do otherwise is simply not the Oregon way. The suffering of just one patient, for just one day, compels us to look for a better system.
Oregon's current medical marijuana program is well-administered. We've had it for 12 years. Only patients with serious, debilitating conditions qualify for medical marijuana. More than 3,400 different Oregon doctors have recommended marijuana as a treatment option for their patients.
But doctors and patients both soon find that the law has a fundamental flaw: No pharmacies carry medical marijuana. There is no practical way for patients to obtain it. The current system says patients must grow their own - a slow and arduous process - or find someone to give it to them for free. Measure 74 would solve this supply problem in a simple way and leave the rest of the program intact.
With the passage of Measure 74, we will have safe, well--regulated and taxed dispensaries that are licensed, inspected and subject to strict regulations written by the Oregon Health Authority. These new nonprofit businesses would be directed by Oregon residents only. These people must submit to a criminal background check and will be subject to the oversight of the Oregon Department of Justice. They will be required to follow all the laws that other businesses follow and will face many additional restrictions, such as enhanced zoning guidelines.
The new system will cost taxpayers nothing, and it will create many new jobs. That's not just our claim, it's the opinion of state authorities who estimated the revenues and costs. They say revenues from license fees and taxes should range between $3 million and $20 million per year, while regulation will cost less than $500,000. That means Measure 74's program will be self-financing. It even has the potential to generate millions of new dollars for Oregon's strapped treasury.
Because the measure was crafted after experiences with medical marijuana in other states, it was written carefully to learn from experience. California's program had no statewide regulation, and it has spawned a patchwork of confusing local rules. Colorado's supply system provided virtually no regulation at the outset, so state legislators had to step in and fix problems. New Mexico authorized far too few dispensaries, compromising the program's viability.
By contrast, Measure 74 will be a model of safety and regulation for the entire nation.
The new law also wisely addresses legitimate citizen concerns, such as prohibiting access to the pharmacy-style dispensaries by non-patients, or having them in residential neighborhoods or near schools. No supporter of this improved system wants to reduce the livability of our cities or disrupt the family values this state holds dear. The motivation for these changes was simple compassion, not just change for the sake of change.
The proposed law also recognizes the need for law enforcement involvement in an area that too long has been polarized by the opposing camps of pro-marijuana activists vs. criminal prosecutors. A middle way is best. Dispensaries are required to operate as traditional businesses, with leases, staffing, payroll taxes, inspections, licensing and more. They must comply with the strict rules and scrutiny that will accompany their licenses, and will face an annual review by the Oregon Department of Justice to retain their nonprofit status.
Oregon's Medical Marijuana Program is run professionally by Oregon's Department of Human Services, which has a $13 billion biennial budget, employs thousands of people and manages many programs with impressive inspection and enforcement powers. New, professionally run dispensaries will be governed by the Oregon Health Authority, soon to be created from the Human Services Department.
It is time that we agree to agree: That we all feel compassion for seriously ill patients, that we all share common concerns for safety and sound government, that every family is vulnerable, and that we work best when we work together.
When Measure 74 passes in November, we will, once again, come together as Oregonians and make our state a model to follow.
John Sajo is co-author of Measure 74. Assisting with this essay was Anthony Johnson, the measure's co-author and chief petitioner, and chief petitioners Alice Ivany and Jim Klahr.