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Give people access, not red tape

Marijuana is a safe, effective medicine. Patients who can benefit from it should be able to get it.

Oregon voters were right to pass the Oregon Medical Marijuana Act in 1998. Since then, evidence has mounted showing that marijuana helps patients suffering from a wide range of ailments. For many patients, marijuana works better than more expensive pharmaceutical drugs.

Some cancer patients report that marijuana is the only thing that controls the nausea caused by their chemotherapy. For some glaucoma patients, marijuana is the only thing that keeps them from going blind. For many chronic pain patients, medical marijuana allows them to end or reduce their use of dangerous drugs such as morphine and Vicodin. This allows them to function far better, which is wonderful for them and their families.

Since the act took effect, more than 3,500 patients have been qualified to use medical marijuana by nearly 800 Oregon doctors. Oregon's law has allowed these patients to choose which medicine to use. There have been no reports of any significant adverse reactions to using marijuana as medicine.

The problem with the act is that it does not create a supply of medical marijuana. Instead, it requires sick and dying patients to grow their own medicine. This hasn't worked and never will. Some lucky patients have a caregiver who can successfully grow marijuana for them, but most patients have struggled unsuccessfully with gardening and resort to the black market if they can afford it.

Another problem with the act is that the health department has failed to follow the law and imposes so much red tape on participants that many patients avoid the program.

The act requires the department to issue registry cards within 30 days to patients who submit complete applications. The department virtually never meets this deadline, and patients have been arrested as a result of not having a card. This is intolerable.

Other departmental decisions can only be characterized as foot dragging. The level of service is unacceptable for a program that is completely self-funding. Given that marijuana seems to be useful for so many conditions, it is disappointing that the department has done nothing to document the positive results that many patients are achieving.

The biggest problem with medical marijuana is the federal government. Voters in 10 states have passed laws legalizing medical marijuana, but Congress refuses to budge from the outdated 'reefer madness' position that criminalizes all use.

The medical use of marijuana is not going to stop. Far too many patients know that it helps them far too much. It is time for our leaders to follow the people on this issue.

The Life With Dignity Committee is sponsoring a statewide initiative petition for the November ballot that would expand the Oregon Medical Marijuana Act. Soon, we will begin passing petitions and expect to get the required 67,000 legal signatures to become eligible for the November ballot.

This initiative will create licensed dispensaries, regulated by the health department, where qualified patients can purchase their medicine in a safe environment.

The initiative also would make numerous other changes in the Oregon Medical Marijuana Act that would cut through some of the red tape that has denied patients the choices they should have. Marijuana is medicine. Patients should be able to get it.

John Sajo is the director of Voter Power and a chief petitioner of the Life With

Dignity petition.