By S. Findley
A controversial medical marijuana measure could mean relief for the seriously ill and an estimated $20 million in revenue plus thousands of jobs for recession-whipped Oregon.
Detractors of Measure 74 argue the measure could generate more crime and the state cannot afford licensing and regulation costs for dispensaries and grow sites.
An estimated 40,000 Oregon residents hold medical marijuana cards, but authors of the measure believe that since the passage of the Oregon Medical Marijuana Act (OMMA) in 1998, there has been no safe, consistent and regulated way for patients to secure their medicine. Many patients, unable to grow their own or obtain it by any other means, resort to black market purchase.
Measure 74 as written would create a system of dispensaries and make marijuana growers and the dispensaries subject to licensing, background checks, taxes, and fees to the state. Regulation includes audit, inspection, zoning and quality control. It would make securing marijuana a business transaction like any other purchase. The measure also mandates marijuana research and reporting.
Dispensaries would be required to make marijuana low-cost or free for low-income individuals.
Under the new measure, state-licensed producers and dispensaries would pay an initial fee of $1000 – $2000 and 10 percent of their gross income to the state.
State officials estimate that dispensaries alone could generate revenue of half a million to as much a $3, or even $20 million annually. These revenues could offset the cost of regulation, which could run an estimated $600,000 per year.
Jackson County District Attorney Mark Huddleston is against measure 74 because he believes it would add “more layers” for abuse. “The current system is already taken advantage of and abused,” he said. “People are growing more plants than allotted for distribution.”
Opponents also fear the burden of enforcement and police protection for the growers and dispensaries would overwhelm already stretched law enforcement. Many proponents counter that the improved system will displace the black market, cutting down on street crime.
In an interview with The Oregonian, longtime medical marijuana opponent Sheriff Tom Bergin of Clatsop County asked about measure, “Is there a way to deal with people who are driving around medicated, stoned?” But the measure changes nothing of the laws already in place for driving while intoxicated.
“Not supporting measure 74, won’t stop dispensaries,” John Sajo co-author of the initiative and Voter Power director told the Oregonian “It will stop the regulation of dispensaries.”
Likewise not supporting the measure will not stop illegal growers. “Stopping drug cartels from growing operations in national forests is where law enforcement needs to focus,” said Bob Wolf, spokesman for Yes on 74. “Picking on patients is disingenuous.”