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MailTribune.com
  • Closer, but still no cigar

    Pot dispensary bill doesn't fix central flaw in the medical marijuana system
  • Oregon's medical marijuana program has long needed a better way to provide the drug to patients who need it, but a bill under consideration in Salem still needs work, and ignores the fundamental flaw in the entire system. A new "wellness center" now operating in Gold Hill is a prime example.
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  • Oregon's medical marijuana program has long needed a better way to provide the drug to patients who need it, but a bill under consideration in Salem still needs work, and ignores the fundamental flaw in the entire system. A new "wellness center" now operating in Gold Hill is a prime example.
    The measure in question, House Bill 3460, would create a "medical marijuana facility registration system" — in other words, a process for registering marijuana dispensaries with the state. Some dispensaries exist now, but there is no provision in the medical marijuana law addressing them or regulating them.
    The lack of officially recognized dispensaries imposes a hardship on some medical marijuana patients — those who are elderly and/or too sick to grow their own marijuana, or have difficulty connecting with a licensed grower to obtain the marijuana they need. So it makes sense to establish a network of facilities to dispense marijuana.
    The problem is the same one that has plagued the entire medical marijuana system from the beginning: The law forbids anyone from selling marijuana to anyone else.
    This may have helped pass the initiative that first legalized medical marijuana in 1998 by allaying fears that drug dealers would take over the system. But it has proved to be a fatal flaw.
    Growers — and dispensary operators, should HB 3460 pass — are permitted to be reimbursed only for "the normal and customary costs of doing business," such as handling, processing and packaging, along with the cost of supplies, rent and utilities. In other words, no one in the supply chain may make a profit.
    Law enforcement's biggest concern regarding the medical marijuana program is overproduction and black-market sales by growers and others taking advantage of the hazy legality of medical pot. Rep. Peter Buckley, D-Ashland, a sponsor of HB 3460, acknowledges that "The black market in our area is out of control." Medford police Chief Tim George says the dispensary bill is "not controlling production," just "a small part of the distribution."
    The bill would not permit police to check on the supply or the growers — not a very effective way of preventing or reducing black-market sales.
    The "wellness center" opening in Gold Hill sounds like a beneficial service, where cardholders can learn how to grow their own marijuana, get a massage with cannabis-infused oil and pick up marijuana that has been grown for them. But to remain within the law, the business will have to survive on donations to cover costs and by selling noncannabis products such as smoking devices, jewelry and clothing.
    That sounds like a tough way to make a living.
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