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State Mulls Medical Marijuana Discount for Poor, Elderly

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State authorities are considering restoring discounts for the poor and people on Social Security to provide relief from a doubling of medical marijuana fees authorized by the Legislature.

An advisory panel met Monday to work out specifics of the higher fees that are to be set by the Oregon Health Authority. The final fees are expected to go into effect in October.

The state budget includes language authorizing increased fees to raise $6.4 million for things like clean water and school health programs. Lawmakers had originally envisioned doubling the basic fee and eliminating most discounts.

Bob Wolfe of Oregon Marijuana Policy Initiative said after organizing a telephone and e-mail campaign to register their outrage with lawmakers, medical marijuana advocates were able to get the program to consider trimming the overall patient registration increase, restoring discounts for people on food stamps, the Oregon Health Plan and Social Security, and reducing the fee charged designated growers.

'As a result we were able to enter talks to change the form of the increases to protect the most vulnerable patients," Wolfe said.

The current fees are $100 a year for medical marijuana patients, and $20 for those who receive food stamps, Medicaid and Social Security.

State officials are considering new fees of $180 a year for patients, $80 for those on food stamps and Medicaid, and $40 for Social Security recipients. There are also fees of $25 to replace a card and $50 to change the caregiver, grower or grow site on a registration, plus $50 for a grower who is not also a patient. The fees would go into effect by Oct. 1 following public hearings.

Barry Kast, acting director of the Oregon Medical Marijuana Program, said projections show the proposed fees easily will generate the revenue demanded in the budget, but people remain concerned that raising fees too high will force the low-income people who represent some 45 percent of patients out of the program.

'This is a Walmart problem," he said. 'The higher you raise fees, the fewer the patients you have, and the less fee revenue. At some point a balance has to be struck."

He added that if the revenue produced by the fees exceeds the $6.4 million, the authority could move to reduce fees.

Oregon Health Authority spokeswoman Christine Stone said the agency can modify the fee increases, as long as they produce the $6.4 million included in the budget.

In apparent anticipation of the increased fees, the numbers of new registrations and renewals spiked in June. As of July 1 there were 49,222 patients registered, plus 25,634 caregivers. Another 4,581 applications were pending.

Advocates suggested the program could increase revenues by hiring more staff to speed up processing the outstanding applications.

Kast said investments in automation were speeding up the application process.

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News Hawk- Jacob Ebel 420 MAGAZINE
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