The little green plants stretching toward the grow lights in a nondescript Rogue Valley tool shed are Cannabis sativa, better known as marijuana, ganja, weed or pot. But the grower is no wild-eyed dope fiend.
John (not his real name) is an educated, well-spoken man of middle age, a property owner and taxpayer, the kind of guy who reads the newspapers and votes. He is also a state of Oregon-registered grower raising the plants for his own use and that of three other people, all of whom have Oregon medical marijuana cards.
"We talk to them nicely," he says of the plants.
The plants share space with a drill press and other stuff. The shed is not much warmer than the day outside. The plants don't seem to mind.
"I've grown this strain continuously for the last 10 years," John says. "It takes heat, food, water and light. In the winter we give them just water and light. In a month or so we'll put them in five-gallon pots and fertilize them. By the end of May they'll be three-and-a-half to five feet tall. Then we'll put them in the ground."
He will eventually take cuttings, and the process will start over.
John is growing the plants under guidelines of the Oregon Advisory Committee on Medical Marijuana. The committee was established in the 2005 legislative session and began life on Jan. 1, 2006. It consists of 11 members, representing registered patients, designated primary caregivers, persons responsible for a pot growing site, and advocates of the Oregon Medical Marijuana Act.
You can't get pot at the pharmacy because pharmacists can dispense only drugs prescribed by licensed medical practitioners, and since the federal government classifies marijuana as a Schedule I drug, doctors cannot prescribe it. But under OMMA, a person with certain medical conditions who has obtained a Oregon Medical Marijuana Program card may legally use pot to mitigate the symptoms or effects of the medical condition.
John is growing pot for a woman with multiple sclerosis, a man with severe spinal injuries, an accident victim with injuries both severe and permanent, and for himself. Each had to qualify, and each had to tell the state where he or she is getting the pot.
"There are some pretty crippled-up people out there that if it weren't for this, they'd be in a world of hurt," he says.
He says he suffers from severe pain, but declines to explain further.
Cannabis has been used for centuries as an analgesic. Advocates claim it is an ideal drug for some cancer and AIDS patients and others with severe pain. Opponents argue that the evidence for such claims is poor, and that pot has little or no medical value.
Some of the most common conditions for which medical marijuana is authorized include severe pain, nausea from chemotherapy, acute spasms and wasting syndrome associated with AIDS.
Each patient may have up to six plants that are 12 inches tall or wide and/or flowering, and up to 18 "starts," or seedlings.
"Some people have a problem making a steady supply growing indoors," John says.
MS patients may use as much as two ounces of pot per week.
"But by and large six and 18 has been a boon."
John says there is little or no red tape involved with the OMMP, once a person has filled out the initial forms to register with the state. He doesn't keep records of each plant, or when pot is distributed.
"The cops see it when they fly over low in the summer," he says. "But the 24/7 system has smoothed things out."
The state's 24/7 Law Enforcement Data System gives officers the means to immediately verify whether a grow site is registered, and to check the name or address of a patient, caregiver or person responsible for a grow site. That translates to no reason to kick in the doors of registered growers. The state says OMMP computer files are secure, and paper files are kept locked when not in use.
"It's helped people not get hassled," John says of the system.