Ruling, initiative light way for medical marijuana users

Recent developments in Oregon have proven positive for medical marijuana advocates throughout the state.
On June 16, the Oregon Court of Appeals agreed with a previous ruling regarding the ability of medical marijuana cardholders to carry concealed weapons permits.
Jackson County Sheriff Mike Winters had denied such a permit to a medical marijuana patient in 2008. That decision was challenged, and Jackson County Circuit Court Judge Mark Shiveley ruled that Winters did not have the legal grounds for the denial. Shiveley’s decision was upheld.
The ruling was applauded by John Sajo, director of Voter Power, a statewide organization that advocates for the rights of medical marijuana patients.
“We were confident that the courts would rule that way, and they did,” Sajo said. “The sheriff was trying to deny concealed carry permits for patients, and that was a tortured interpretation of the laws involved.”
Melissa Fritts, clinic director for Rogue River Herbal Pain Management Center, said that Winters’ decision to deny the concealed carry permits was improper.
“It’s just like saying that someone with a prescription for Vicodin or Percocet can’t have a concealed weapon,” Fritts said.
Also on June 16, the Oregon Board of Pharmacy voted to reclassify marijuana from a Schedule I to a Schedule II controlled substance. Fritts said that action should benefit the medical marijuana patients that she serves.
“In my opinion, it takes some of the stigma off of medical marijuana and marijuana in general,” she said.
Sajo said that the move was a “largely symbolic act,” because the Medical Marijuana Act, approved by Oregon voters in November 1998, bypassed the pharmacy board. He added that it was “unfortunate” that the substance was only moved down to Schedule II.
“It’s very likely that the decision to go only to Schedule II will be appealed,” Sajo said. “The appeal likely will take many years of making its way through the court system. In the end, marijuana will be placed on a less-restrictive schedule, because science calls for it.”
The pharmacy board’s decision to reclassify marijuana was the result of a law passed by the Legislature.
Friday, July 2 was the deadline for initiative sponsors to submit signatures to the Secretary of State’s office for verification in order to place the measures on the Nov. 2 general election ballot. Medical marijuana advocates turned in signatures in support of Initiative 28, which would establish a statewide system for dispensaries where patients could receive their supplies.
Sajo said that he is “very confident” that supporters of the initiative gathered enough valid signatures to bring it to a vote. He said that the measure will have many benefits for thousands of Oregon’s medical marijuana patients.
“Basically, it will fix the problems with the medical marijuana law,” Sajo said. “It will give patients more choices about how they obtain their medicine.”
The Secretary of State’s office has 30 days to verify the signatures, but Sajo said that Voter Power expects to know by the middle of July if the initiative will qualify for the ballot.
If voters approve the measure in November, Sajo said, patients will be able to grow their own marijuana, designate a grower or go to dispensaries.
“Having a stable, reliable supply of medicine should make it easier for doctors to qualify more patients and have more predictable outcomes,” Sajo said.
The initiative also would create a program for indigent patients, he added, and authorizes the state health department to research medical marijuana for quality control standards.
Fritts said that there are other upsides to approving the initiative.
“It would allow patients who don’t have the knowledge, access or resources to grow their own medicine a legal and convenient way to access medication,” he said. “Also, it would bring a lot of money to the state.”
Sajo said that Voter Power and other similar organizations plan to ramp up their efforts between now and Nov. 2 to ensure that the initiative becomes law.
“We will raise as much money as we can and try really hard to win the election,” he stated. “We are confident that Oregon voters will vote in this improvement to the Medical Marijuana Act.
“Oregonians understand that marijuana is medicine, and patients ought to be able to get it,” Sajo opined.