Monday, May 24, 2010

State gets medical marijuana dispensary initiative

PORTLAND — Supporters of an initiative to create a system of medical
marijuana dispensaries in Oregon have submitted petitions with more than
110,000 signatures in hopes of getting on the ballot this fall.

The Coalition for Patients' Rights was able to gather the signatures
before an early submission deadline, requiring the state Elections
Division to immediately determine whether there are enough valid
signatures to meet the minimum of about 83,000 needed to qualify.

In addition to dispensaries, the initiative would also create a system
of regulated medical marijuana producers.

Voters defeated a measure to create dispensaries in 2004 but supporters
say they believe opposition has declined.

They say the proposed initiative would also improve the existing Oregon
Medical Marijuana Act, approved in 1998 to establish quality control for
patients now required to grow their own marijuana or designate a

"When we drafted the original Oregon Medical Marijuana Act, we didn't
include provisions for dispensaries because federal law prohibited
that," said John Sajo, executive director of the Voter Power Foundation,
which organized the petition drive.

"Now that the Obama administration has indicated that they will allow
states to regulate medical marijuana, Oregon needs to create a regulated
system so every patient can access quality controlled medicine," Sajo

One of the leading opponents of the initiative, former state lawmaker
Kevin Mannix, said the number of signatures likely would ensure it
qualifies for the ballot but that law enforcement officials will review
it carefully.

"My gut check is they're breaking faith with the voters," Mannix said.
"I'm not saying they have broken faith. But we'll go back to promises
that were made when medical marijuana was on the ballot in 1998."

Supporters say the initiative will not change the medical conditions
needed to qualify as a patient under the 1998 act.

But it will allow the Oregon Department of Human Services to conduct
research into the safety and effectiveness of medical marijuana.

According to state figures, the Oregon Medical Marijuana Program has
about 33,000 registered patients.

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