Eugene, Ore—Jim Greig, a patient on medical marijuana with a severe form of genetic rheumatoid arthritis, lays at home in the hospital bed that his condition has confined him to. “I use marijuana in conjunction with opiates to help relieve pain,” he says while watching the men’s US Olympic Hockey Team on television. Greig has worked as an activist for medical marijuana since moving to Oregon more than 20 years ago.
Although it is still regarded by the federal government as a Schedule 1 narcotic, marijuana is approved for medicinal purposes in fourteen states. Proponents of a new initiative in Oregon however, are trying to take their state’s medical marijuana policy one step further.
Petitioners have reached 75,000 of the 82,762 signatures needed to get Initiative 28 on the November ballot. If passed this initiative would allow for state run medical marijuana dispensaries in Oregon, and expand the current law that requires patients on the Oregon Medical Marijuana Program to grow their own medicine.
Initiative 28 is similar to legislation already passed in California and Colorado, and would expand the Oregon Medical Marijuana Act passed in 1998 by setting up small state controlled stores where patients can purchase marijuana in a variety of forms.
For patients like Jim Greig this legislation would make it easier to get the medicine that now is hard to come by. “There’s a severe shortage of growers,” says Grieg from his hospital bed. “It’s a labor of love. You’re asking someone to dedicate a room in their house, thousands of dollars, and hundreds of hours a month for free.”
According to Greig, most patients on the OMMP purchase their marijuana from illegal dealers because of the time, effort and cost involved in growing it. In an effort to eliminate the criminal element involved with medical marijuana, Initiative 28 would provide a resource where patients can purchase their medicine, and reinvest the money back into the state general fund.
This is not the first time that legislation of this kind has been proposed in Oregon. In 2003, ballot measure 33 called for a supply system of marijuana, but failed to pass with voters because it mandated that all counties without a dispensary use state funds to set one up within 6 months. Initiative 28 does not have the same requirements.
Reverend William Winget of the Church of the Caring, a compassion group dedicated to providing marijuana to patients with terminal illness, supports Initiative 28 because of the time involved in growing marijuana. “When you first get your card it can take you three months or longer before you get your first medicine,” he explains. For patients who are close to dying, three months is time they do not have.
Not all Oregonians however, are sold about the idea of expanding Oregon’s medical marijuana laws.
Dan Harmond, Executive Vice President of Hoffman Construction in Portland, says that his company refuses to hire any employees who use medical marijuana. In a recent statement to the council members of Hoffman Construction’s business chamber, Associated Oregon Industries, Harmond addresses Initiative 28, “Over 70% of Oregon employers rank substance abuse as a concern, and marijuana use is by far the most prevalent use for testing failure…Unfortunately, the Oregon Medical Marijuana Program has added to the problem.” For Harmond, expanding the program is out of the question.
Another point of contention with Initiative 28 for Harmond is that most of the organizations involved in its petitioning, such as Oregon NORML and voterpower.org, are advocates for the complete legalization of marijuana, and he says are using Initiative 28 as its Trojan Horse.
Employers are not the only opponents to Initiative 28. Chris Gibson of the Office of National Drug Control Policy in Salem Oregon cautions against the increased socialization of marijuana. “I think that the more we legitimize the use of marijuana, the more use is going to occur and subsequently the more abuse is going to occur.”
Gibson has been working in law enforcement for more than eighteen years, and has encountered marijuana on a street level for all of them. “After arresting a pretty good number of people who are involved in hard narcotics…cocain, methamphetamine…I don’t think I ever talked to a single one who didn’t start out with marijuana or alcohol—or both.”
When the Oregon Medical Marijuana Act was passed 12 years ago, voters showed that they were ready to accept a new form of alternative medicine. Today, a new debate comes to the forefront regarding expanding the Oregon Medical Marijuana Program. If Initiative 28 comes to a vote this November, many stakeholders affected by medical marijuana will have a chance to voice their opinions. As Jim Greg points out, “I think that section in the voters pamphlet is going to be very thick.”