POST CATEGORY: Health & Science

Finding Balance

November 01, 2016 | DR. SCANDERSON FOR NORTHWEST LEAF

Tough times are ahead for the Oregon Medical Marijuana Program and all who use it.

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Legal Cannabis has swept most of Oregon. 

Dispensaries have now begun to file for OLCC licenses, relinquishing previous medical status. Despite all growing pains, Oregon tax coffers have collected over 40 million dollars thanks to regulated adult-use Cannabis in Oregon produced entirely by medical growers. 

finding-balance-quote1.jpgIf a dispensary becomes an OLCC recreational Cannabis dispensary, they can still serve the medical patients’ needs without a tax burden. But the catch is, there’s no recreational weed on the market. If a medical dispensary decides to stay medical, they cannot cash in on recreational users. Tough times are ahead for the Oregon Medical Marijuana Program and all who use it.

Draconian regulation under recreational Cannabis has arguably continued to push people into the medical program. Medical patients are currently allotted up to five grams of oil per day, 100 milligrams of THC in edibles and over a pound of weed (though few patients can afford to buy over an ounce). The legal market allows 7 grams of flower per day and only 1 gram of oil. All rec edibles are capped at 15 milligrams, not usually enough for medical users.

Cannabis was legalized July 1, 2015 and the number of medical patients in Oregon continues to climb. There are currently over 68,000 patients in Oregon. The largest demographic of people holding cards are aged 55-64, making up 23.6 percent of the patient population. Only 1.9 percent (approximately 1,334 patients) of patients are younger than 21 years of age, according to the OMMP’s July 2016 stats. Young people aren’t trying to exploit the system; most medical users are middle-aged.

Oregonians continue to utilize the medical program at a steady rate. Instead of the original $250 (grower included) patient cost, the Oregon Health Authority (OHA) now charges OMMP growers an additional $200 per patient. 

The OHA now receives $450 per patient if the patient is luckily enough to find a grower. 

The worst part is card return times are slower than ever. Patients and growers are operating at a higher cost, and the process trudges along as if moving through sticky tar. If the state continues to tack on additional fees, you’d hope the paperwork process would go faster. Unfortunately, that isn’t the case.

In Oregon, the OHA requires every OMMP patient to bring their medical card and valid ID to dispensaries.  Official postage stamps and copies of our approved paperwork naturally doesn’t work (thanks bureaucrats), only that cheap paper card will do. Even though patients already paid the money in advance, the state says processing should take three to six weeks. But some patients have waited up to four months before they received any sort of official paperwork back.

This has been an issue for patients long before Measure 91 was passed. Under HB 3460 (the bill that originally allowed medical dispensaries to exist), patients had to provide the official OMMP card and valid ID. 

The only difference was back then, your paperwork was on time. There weren’t as many patients in the program and applications were approved on time. In light of mounting complaints, the OHA finally gave patients a temporary 30-day pass that allows approved patients to purchase from dispensaries until their official card arrives in the mail. 

The problem is, the card never arrives on time, and the state does not offer extensions on temporary passes. So if your temporary expires before your new OMMP card arrives, you’re out of luck.

Despite the increased amount of money that the OHA now pulls in from medical marijuana patients and growers, the medical marijuana program refuses to hire additional personnel to increase efficiency and ensure patients receive their paperwork in a timely fashion. The state is failing its medical patients. This puts dispensaries in a terrible position and at odds against OMMP patients, the very people who helped legitimize the Cannabis movement in Oregon. 

Patients are being forced to look to their grower (if they’re lucky enough to have one), or buy fully taxed Cannabis in limited amounts. Not all patients are able or wealthy enough to make a trip to a dispensary every day for meds!

Whispers of patient-driven class action lawsuits have been considered, but nothing has materialized. Most patients do not have the time or financial means to pursue the state in court. They are entirely at the mercy of the glacial efficiency of the OHA.

As a current medical marijuana cardholder, my card eventually expires after the first of the year. In order to (hopefully) ensure my card will be renewed in time, I am planning on resubmitting my application in November: a full three months before I expire. Close friends around me warn it isn’t enough time. Although I would love to resubmit my paperwork now, the $450 fee stifles my progress. I don’t qualify for any reduced rates. 

Granted, it’s a privilege to obtain Cannabis access in Oregon, and unlike Washington, we still have a functioning medical program. When M91 was passed, it was written so medical marijuana would not be touched. 

The future of medical Cannabis is uncertain. 

It exists for now, but without sustained and committed patient advocacy, it could dissolve just as easily as it did up in Washington.

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