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Two Views • Control, tax medical marijuana

Politics and medicine make a volatile mix for medical marijuana advocates, critics
by: L.E. BASKOW, Dennis “Goofmystir” Finnell smokes a marijuana pipe at the Cannabis Cafe in Northeast Portland, billed as the nation's first marijuana cafe. The private club, which recently closed and plans to move, supplies donated cannabis and is open only to medical marijuana cardholders.

Patients should be able to obtain medical marijuana. Oregonians passed the Oregon Medical Marijuana Act in 1998 because Oregonians believe that marijuana has medical properties and patients shouldn't be arrested for using it. The problem is that this law continues to require patients to produce their own medicine. Federal law prevents pharmacies from carrying marijuana, but it does not prevent states from enacting reasonable laws to control dispensing marijuana through other outlets.

Initiative 28, which will be on the November ballot, will create a regulated supply system to fix this problem.

The Oregon Medical Marijuana Program is growing rapidly. More than 36,000 Oregon patients have been qualified for the program by more than 3,200 doctors. That means nearly one in four Oregon doctors have already confirmed (in writing) that their patients would benefit from medical marijuana.

Marijuana is useful for a variety of ailments including severe pain and nausea, and is much safer than pharmaceutical pain killers. It acts on the human body's endocannabinoid system of receptors whose distribution throughout the human body makes overdose impossible.

In spite of roadblocks preventing research, double blind, placebo-controlled studies have confirmed that marijuana is an effective pain-relieving drug. Oregon physicians find that the benefits of medical marijuana outweigh the risks. If this were not true, there wouldn't be more than three thousand Oregon doctors qualifying patients.

Under the current law, it is a felony to sell marijuana to anyone - even a qualified patient. That has made life difficult for patients and their caregivers. Imagine what it would be like if we all had to produce our own aspirin instead of buying it, and it was a crime to sell it.

Initiative 28 will create a controlled system of licensed producers and dispensaries. This will make medical marijuana available to patients in a wide variety of formulations like lozenges, tinctures, salves and edibles that are quality controlled and labeled for potency.

Critics of medical marijuana often complain that smoking is not a good way to administer medicine, but they work to prohibit a system that can make non-smoked formulations available.

Here's how the system would work: Dispensaries will be Oregon nonprofits who pay a $2,000 license fee and pay a 10 percent tax on gross sales. They also will have to follow DHS regulations regarding record keeping, security, zoning and other issues. Producers will have to pay a $1,000 license fee and 10 percent tax.

Any registered patient will be able to shop at any dispensary and dispensaries will be able to purchase their supplies from any licensed producer. Records will be required and audited. All producers and dispensary employees will have to be older than 21 and pass criminal background checks. All activities will be subject to local health department regulation and inspections.

This system will be better for everyone. Patients who don't want a marijuana garden but just want the medicine will be able to get it. And instead of the unknown product they get now, medical marijuana can be quality controlled and labeled for strength. There is more than one active ingredient in marijuana (THC and CBD) and doctors will be able to fine-tune the formulations their patients use. The production of medical marijuana will be subject to the kind of quality control, transparency and accountability we expect of medicines.

Initiative 28 also calls for a DHS-regulated program to assist low-income patients and allows DHS to conduct scientific research into medical marijuana. Research will establish quality control standards and identify the best practices for using this medicine. Much recent evidence points to new medical uses for marijuana, but these are not well understood and deserve much more careful scientific study.

This new system will not cost taxpayers a penny and will actually raise millions of dollars for other health programs. Our estimates are $10 million to $40 million the first year. California dispensaries already are paying hundreds of millions of dollars in sales taxes. Instead of treating medical marijuana as a problem, we can turn it into a solution.

Medical marijuana is here to stay. It can be a godsend for patients suffering from severe chronic pain whose alternatives are more dangerous pharmaceutical painkillers. If the patient is you or a loved one, don't you want the choice to have available whatever medicine works best for you?

Oregon voters may get to choose this November: Recriminalize medical marijuana and go back to arresting patients, as some in law enforcement propose, or create a controlled system that gets safe medicine to the patients that need it while minimizing abuse by creating appropriate regulation. Patients deserve safe access.

John Sajo is executive director of the Voter Power Foundation, which supports the use of medical marijuana.