Advocates are proposing big changes to the 4-year-old Oregon Medical
Marijuana Act, including establishing dispensaries for distributing the
drug, even as federal authorities move to clamp down on such state laws.

The supporters, under the name Life with Dignity Committee, filed an
initiative with the Secretary of State's Office to amend Oregon's law.

Backers need to get about 75,000 signatures to get the measure before
voters on the November 2004 ballot.

The initiative would, among other things, set up dispensaries to be run by
nonprofit groups and be licensed and registered by the State Department of
Human Services.

The initiative would also: * Increase the amount of marijuana that a
medical marijuana cardholder could grow and possess. Cardholders now can
grow three mature plants and four immature plants and possess up to 3
ounces. The initiative would permit cardholders to grow 10 marijuana
plants at once and possess up to 1 pound of marijuana. If a person is
growing one crop per year, the cardholder could possess up to 6 pounds of
marijuana. * Authorize nurse-practitioners and naturopaths, not just
doctors, to recommend marijuana for patients. * Establish the Oregon
Medical Marijuana Commission. The commission would have one member each
representing patients, caregivers, dispensaries, law enforcement, defense
attorneys, doctors and the state. The commission would have authority to
order and veto staff decisions,

Oregon voters approved the medical marijuana law in 1998, and it went into
effect in 1999. Cardholders must get a doctor to sign a form saying they
could benefit from marijuana and pay a $150 annual fee.

The number of cardholders has grown steadily each year, from 594 in April
2000 to 1,662 in April 2001 and 3,596 in April 2002. As of Thursday
(February 13, 2003), the number stood at 4,639.

The move to liberalize Oregon's law comes as federal authorities are trying
to assert their authority over the state laws, particularly in California.

Last month, a federal court jury in San Francisco convicted Ed Rosenthal, a
self-described "Guru of Ganja," of growing more than 100 plants, conspiracy
to cultivate marijuana and maintaining a warehouse for a growing operation.
He faces up to 85 years in prison when sentenced June 4th.

During the trial, U.S. District Judge Charles Breyer barred Rosenthal's
attorneys from telling the jury that he grew marijuana for Oakland's
medical-marijuana program. When jurors found out after the trial, they
called a news conference to say they were misled and that they would have
acquitted Rosenthal had they known he was growing marijuana for medical

John Sajo, the initiative's chief petitioner, said he's concerned that
would change if voters decided to expand the Oregon law. But he added, "We
expect this conflict between the 10 states that have medical marijuana laws
(and the federal government) to continue. On this issue, states are right
and the feds are wrong, and ultimately, it's the federal policy that needs
to change."

The initiative includes new language asserting Oregon's right to "regulate
the health and safety of its citizens" under the 10th Amendment and its
citizens right to privacy under the Ninth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

The head of one anti-drug group said the effort to liberalize the Oregon
law and establish medical marijuana dispensaries is "a ridiculous idea."

"What you're doing is making the state, in essence, the drug dealer," said
Sandra Bennett, director of the Northwest Center for Health and Safety in
La Center, Wash. Unlike legal prescription drugs, there is no control over
the potency or dosage of marijuana, she said. "It absolutely makes no
sense to do that," she said.

Advocates say dispensaries would address what they see as one of the
biggest problems with Oregon's law, which is that it can be hard for
patients to obtain a steady, reliable supply of marijuana.

And it would curb thefts of medical marijuana gardens, they say. "We've
heard literally of dozens of thefts of marijuana gardens" in the past year,
said Sajo, head of Voter Power, a group that advocates medical marijuana.

"Hopefully, by having dispensaries that will be regulated, that wouldn't be
an issue. Dispensary administrators would pay a $1,000 fee, plus 10
percent of growth revenue to the state.

They also would be required to provide medical marijuana for free to
indigent patients, at an amount equal to 20 of the value of marijuana sold
each month.

Pubdate: Sat, 15 Mar 2003
Source: Register-Guard, The (OR)
Copyright: 2003 The Register-Guard