Lawmakers hear testimony on medical marijuana bills

Lawmakers hear testimony on medical marijuana bills
(AP Photo/Rick Bowmer, File)

SALEM, Ore. (AP) — State lawmakers in Oregon are considering a bill that would make medical marijuana dispensaries legal amid arguments that the state's 53,000 users don't always want to grow their own pot or buy directly from growers.

Dispensaries exist now in Oregon, but there is no law regulating their operations and some counties have chosen to shut them down. The proposal before the House Health Care Committee would require dispensaries to register with the state medical marijuana program and meet certain quality standards.

"Many patients do not have a grower, do not want to grow themselves, and have difficulty finding safe, reliable and legal access for the medicine they need," said Geoff Sugarman, director of Oregonians for Medical Rights and the bill's architect.

Under current law, cardholders must grow the pot themselves or find a grower to grow it for them. Sugarman said this has led to an abuse of the system.

"Marijuana being grown legally for patients is not finding its way into the hands of patients, but is instead being siphoned off into the black market," he told lawmakers.

Tom Chamberlain told lawmakers he thought it was legal to buy pot from the dispensary he uses in Portland. Chamberlain buys medical marijuana for his son, who was paralyzed last year in a car accident.

"I didn't know until recently it was illegal," he said. "Nor did I know that the products he was purchasing weren't tested, so there wasn't an assurance of quality."

Under the bill, facilities would be required to test all batches of marijuana for pesticides, mold and mildew. It would also mandate that facilities meet certain security requirements.

Donald Morse, a co-director of the Human Collective dispensary in Tigard, said growing pot is not an option for many patients, especially those with full-time jobs who can't tend to the plant or those with disabilities.

"And for some, they simply have no more desire to grow their own medicine than they would to raise a chicken for tonight's dinner," he told lawmakers.

He said some cardholders are uncomfortable looking for growers without knowing who they are.

Rep. Wally Hicks, a Republican from Grants Pass, told lawmakers he does not support legitimizing dispensaries. He is backing an alternative approach that would make it easier for cardholders to connect with growers and would impose quality requirements on the products.

The committee also heard testimony on a bill that would limit the number of growers per grow site to three in an effort to crack down on commercial marijuana growing operations. There is currently no limit, which has resulted in sizeable marijuana plantations, especially in Southern Oregon.

Oregon voters last November rejected legalizing the recreational use of marijuana, but there is another effort under way in the Legislature that would try again to make it legal.