21 May Oregon Medical Marijuana Bill Heads to Senate Floor
Tensions are high in Oregon as the legislature rushes to pass Senate Bill 964, a bill aimed at tightening restrictions on the state’s medical marijuana program. On May 18, 2015, the bill unanimously cleared a special Senate committee and is expected to reach the Senate floor within the coming days.
If passed the bill would limit the number of marijuana plants a person could grow, establish a self-reporting tracking system for marijuana growers, eliminate ambiguity regarding inspection requirements, and give cities and municipalities the authority to ban marijuana dispensaries.
Members of the medical marijuana community have been crying foul over SB 964, believing that lawmakers are putting profits over patients.
“Oregon Measure 91 officials seem to be forgetting 56% of Oregonians voted for our leaders to create a new system regulating recreational marijuana, not ripping the existing Oregon Medical Marijuana Program (OMMP) to shreds,” said activist Simone Fischer in an op-ed in Ladybud Magazine.
Pretty much every part of this bill has drawn criticism from every side of the debate, and it is easy to see why.
For example, SB 964 imposes a limit of 12 marijuana plants per grow site within city limits. The bill makes no distinction between individuals, so essentially two people living at one address would be limited to six marijuana plants each while their single neighbor could grow the maximum 12. Most likely it was not the intent of lawmakers to create this issue, but nonetheless here it remains.
Another contentious provision in the bill would allow cities and municipalities to ban marijuana dispensaries without a vote from the people. Legislators in the House staunchly oppose the measure, while legislators in the Senate support it.
This disagreement between the two houses of government caused legislative gridlock, which prompted Senate President Peter Courtney to create the special Senate committee which cleared SB 964 earlier in the week.
With so much discord between legislators and citizens, it makes one wonder why the state would try to revise the medical marijuana program when it has not fully implemented recreational marijuana yet. The answer is that lawmakers are worried about interference from the federal government.
When the Department of Justice issued the Cole Memo in 2013, the DOJ promised not to interfere with states that had liberalized their marijuana laws, provided that the state does everything it can to crack down on marijuana’s black market.
Among lawmakers, there is a huge perception that most of Oregon’s medical marijuana makes it to the black market. While there is probably a portion of medical marijuana making it to the black market, there is little evidence to suggest that it is a significant portion.
Despite this lack of evidence, appearances matter; and when lawmakers like Sen. Ginny Burdick tell The Oregonian, “It’s no secret that medical marijuana [from Oregon] is appearing all over the U.S. in the illegal market,” then there is a problem.
There is no clear answer as to how legislators and regulators should address the black market. However, there is still time for both sides of the issue to come to a reasonable compromise that satisfies the Cole Memo. SB 964 still has to pass in the Senate, and then it will have to be reconciled with its House equivalent, HB 3400. This is an opportunity for lawmakers to do what is best for the people of Oregon.
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