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  • Dispensaries will further abuse, police believe

  • With marijuana harvest in full swing, Lt. Tim Doney, head of the Medford Area Drug and Gang Enforcement team, hears concerns and complaints about medical marijuana from every side.
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  • With marijuana harvest in full swing, Lt. Tim Doney, head of the Medford Area Drug and Gang Enforcement team, hears concerns and complaints about medical marijuana from every side.
    Patients complain about growers who fail to provide a full share of processed marijuana or refuse to turn over plants. Growers report thefts of the drug. And neighbors complain about fat buds nodding over fences, pungent smells, and noise and traffic generated by people coming and going from growing sites in residential neighborhoods and rural areas.
    "When everybody has something to complain about, there is something wrong with the whole thing," Doney said.
    However, he and other local police don't think Measure 74, which establishes medical marijuana dispensaries, will solve the problems, and they fear that the proposed law could make the situation even worse.
    Associations representing police chiefs, sheriffs and district attorneys in Oregon have come out against the measure.
    In a statement of opposition included in the voters' guide, the law enforcement organizations urged people to reject what they called "a confusing and poorly worded measure" that would add a new production and distribution system for marijuana without addressing abuse in the current system. They claim that the measure would make it more difficult to stop illegal use and distribution of the drug.
    "Measure 74 is rife with problems and the potential for abuse," said Medford police Deputy Chief Tim George, who has been a vocal opponent of the existing medical marijuana program, approved by Oregon voters in 1998.
    The proposed measure clearly states that the dispensaries are intended to supplement the current system. The addition shouldn't infringe on a marijuana patient's ability to grow his own medicine or designate someone to grow for him, it says.
    "It doesn't replace the system," George said. "It just adds a source. There's just that much more money changing hands."
    Under the current medical marijuana law, he explains that a patient can have a pound and a half of processed marijuana and six mature plants, which he estimates could produce five pounds of pot each, worth roughly $90,000.
    Police worry that the potential concentration of an expensive drug and related cash at dispensaries could attract crime, pointing to problems reported in Los Angeles since dispensaries were approved in California in 2003, and their numbers soared in the past three years. This year, Los Angeles moved to limit the number of dispensaries. Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca, who is heading a campaign in opposition to a legalization proposal on California's ballot in November, has said enterprising criminals have infiltrated some dispensaries.
    A Los Angeles Times story in early September reported that at least six killings in L.A. County so far this year have been tied to the marijuana trade. The Los Angeles Police Department has recorded dozens of lesser crimes, such as robberies and burglaries.
    "I'm concerned about how it could affect neighborhoods," Medford Police Chief Randy Schoen said.
    The measure prohibits dispensaries in residential neighborhoods and within 1,000 feet of schools. Then it tasks the Department of Human Services, which will oversee the dispensary system, with creating other rules on permissible locations.
    Medford police said they would like to see more local control by cities and counties, which handle other zoning and planning questions. That way neighboring businesses could go to local officials if they saw a problem developing in an area.
    Police also would like to see more oversight of dispensaries and worry that the cash-strapped state could struggle to get a system of controls in place.
    "This measure doesn't go far enough to control who can run a dispensary," Schoen said. "A convicted felon can run a dispensary."
    He echoed the law enforcement opposition seen in the voters' guide, pointing out that the measure would allow a person recently convicted of felony drug charges to be a producer or dispensary director or employee. People with such drug convictions after the law takes effect would be barred from production and dispensary work for five years. The measure also bars from dispensary work for five years anyone convicted of violent felonies or felony theft.
    Both the federal Drug Enforcement Administration and the state board of pharmacy oversee pharmacies to ensure safety and accountability, Schoen said. He would like to see marijuana dispensaries have a similar combination of medical and law enforcement authorities watching.
    Both George and Schoen said medical marijuana should be treated more like other prescription drugs. Rather than a doctor's note explaining that marijuana "may mitigate" the symptoms or effects of the applicant's debilitating medical condition — all that's required under current law — patients should get a prescription that provides detailed instruction on dosages. They should get follow-up care to monitor possible side effects, as well as effectiveness.
    "Right now, how it's being recommended and used is like a Cheech and Chong movie," George said.
    He and Schoen both said they have compassion for patients who get a legitimate medical benefit from marijuana and they respect that voters approved medical marijuana.
    However, they doubt that most people understand the scope — and potential for abuse — of the current system, never mind the expansion that Measure 74 would usher in.
    More than 36,000 people have medical marijuana cards, mostly for treatment of pain, not rare or terminal diseases. Registered growers produce what potentially could be million-dollar drug crops.
    "I don't believe Oregon voters expected what (the Oregon Medical Marijuana Program) would bring," George said.
    In their opposition statement in the voters' guide, police and prosecutors say that Measure 74 will increase abuses of the medical marijuana law and have "a significant and negative impact on the ability of law enforcement to keep our communities a safe place to live, work and play."
    "We don't make the rules; we just officiate the results," George said. "I hope voters know what they are voting for."
    Reach reporter Anita Burke at 541-776-4485, or e-mail aburke@mailtribune.com.
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