Medical marijuana grower James Bowman intends to vote for Measure 74, but he may be holding his nose when he casts his ballot.
"I support legalization of cannabis," stressed the Ruch area resident. "Measure 74 is too compromising. I'll vote for it, but I see this as only a small step. It doesn't go far enough."
While Bowman agrees with measure backers — and opponents — that Oregon's 1998 medical marijuana law needs improvement, he believes Measure 74 on the Nov. 2 ballot is not the answer.
For instance, the measure's fees — he refers to them as taxes — are too high for those who would provide the legal pot, he said.
The measure would require marijuana producers and dispensaries to pay a 10 percent fee on all income. It also would require them to pay an annual licensing fee of $1,000 and $2,000, respectively.
"I don't agree with the over-taxation and regulation on the producers," Bowman said. "I would be glad to pay 10 percent of my personal income. But it hinders our business if the tax is 10 percent of the gross revenue."
"That makes it hard to do the normal things a business would do. I want to pay the same as my neighbors who grow wine grapes. We should be taxed like any other business."
Others concerned about the measure fear it will increase drug abuse problems and challenges for law enforcement agencies to keep communities safe.
They also worry that allowing a state agency to set many of the guidelines after the measure is approved will lead to consequences not intended by voters.
"It opens up a big can of worms," said Medford resident Victor Gonzales, 45, noting he had problems with marijuana and other drugs as a younger man, a problem that led to his incarceration.
"Where would they put them?" he asked of the proposed medical marijuana dispensaries. "The venue is real important. You don't want them near school kids. Maybe they could be at drug stores."
Gonzales, who was working in scrap metals until he injured his back, said he didn't know how he would vote on the measure.
"It would have to be monitored very closely," he said. "Right now, you have people with cards who sell it illegally. I'm all for drugs for people with medical problems but not for illegal activity."
Jana Wolfgang, owner of Portland-based Wolfgang Associates, a small business that helps employers manage drug-testing programs, is opposed to the measure. She is co-chairwoman of the Portland Employer Drug-Free Initiative.
She will tell you that Oregon's marijuana use by adults already is 50 percent higher than the national average, and that passage of the measure would serve to undermine employer efforts to reduce substance abuse in the workplace.
"Marijuana can impair people's performance on the job," she said, noting that most of her clients are in the construction industry. "Anything that potentially increases the use of marijuana by employees concerns me a lot."
A citizen group known as Oregonians Against Legalization of Marijuana is adamantly opposed to the measure based primarily on the premise it is another step toward marijuana legalization.
Group founder Shirley Morgan of Welches did not return several telephone calls left by the Mail Tribune, but she spelled out her concerns to the Secretary of State's Office in the form of a submission to the fall voters' pamphlet.
She believes Measure 74 would allow cardholders to bypass the maximum amount of pot allowed by going to different dispensaries and growing it at home. She also is concerned that dispensaries would be allowed near places such as libraries, churches, parks and day-care centers.
And she says the measure would result in thousands of dispensaries across the state.
"Measure 74 is costly and lacks clarity on regulation, operation and enforcement," she wrote.
Opposition also has sprung up from the Oregon District Attorneys Association, the Oregon State Sheriffs Association and the Oregon Association Chiefs of Police.
As the vote on the measure approaches, Bowman, 50, is beginning to harvest his legal pot crop near Ruch. He is a medical marijuana cardholder, a legal grower and a caregiver. As a grower, he can grow for four patients, including himself. As a patient, he can grow for himself or have a legal grower do it.
However, as a caregiver who lives at the grow site, he can "care" for an unlimited number of patients in what law enforcement officials refer to as the "caregiver loophole," he explained. His grow site provides for about 70 patients.
Legally, he can have up to 350 budding plants at one time, but his site always contains about 100 fewer plants than the legal limit to err on the side of caution, he said.
"What 74 will do is take away the incentive for the farmer — the producers — to have a relationship with the patient," he said. "That's how our farm has made the program we have now work for us.
"We grow for the individual patient," he added. "We are more responsive to their needs because of that. But 74 will make it impossible to keep doing it that way. We will have to adapt to their model if it passes."
He firmly believes that if the state were to adopt full cannabis legalization for adults, Oregon would no longer be in an economic quagmire.
"They are really missing out on all that revenue," he said, noting it could help pay for such services as police and fire protection. "In the Rogue Valley area, we can experience the (marijuana) economy to its fullest. Thousands of jobs would be created overnight. But if it is kept only as medicinal, that limits its potential, both economically and socially."
Although 14 states have medical marijuana programs, Oregon, along with Northern California, produces the best pot, he said.
"But politicians are reluctant to take suggestions from a grower," he said, noting he has invited several to his property to learn firsthand about the issue. None have taken him up on the offer, he noted.
"Right now, we subsidize medicinal marijuana for free," he said. "I'm a big supporter of the medical marijuana program but in the 12 years (since it was enacted) they haven't made it legal to pay for our labor. I'm just hoping Measure 74 won't lead us down the wrong road and hinder legalization."
Reach reporter Paul Fattig at 541-776-4496 or e-mail him at email@example.com.