Late-session medical marijuana bill packs two hearing rooms at Capitol
by Ryan Kost, The Oregonian
A last-minute bill to more strongly regulate Oregon's medical marijuana laws filled two hearing rooms at the Capitol Thursday afternoon.
For over an hour, those who think certain provisions need to be tightened sparred with those who say the law is fine as is. The audience, at least in the overflow room, appeared firmly in the second camp.
As Rep. Andy Olson walked the audience through what the bill would do – put more restrictions on who can receive a medical marijuana card, further limit how many plants growers can produce and give police greater access to patient and grower records – the crowd reacted.
"No. No. No. No," said one man.
"Big Brother's watching," said another.
Olson, one of the chief sponsors of House Bill 3664 and a Republican from Albany, said the fact that there were some 20 bills floating around the legislature this session addressing various issues with the program mean that something had to be done.
"When there are that many bills, with similar themes, there exists a major problem," he said, "a major concern."
About 2,000 doctors currently have patients registered in the Oregon Medical Marijuana Program, which has issued cards to about 40,000 patients and 21,000 caregivers.
A Grants Pass detective, a Josephine County deputy district attorney and Brad Berry, the Yamhill County district attorney, were all on hand to speak in favor of tighter regulation.
"This isn't about the legitimate use of marijuana, this is about the abuse of the Oregon medical marijuana program," Berry said.
The men called those abuses "massive," talked about some low-level growers who net two pounds of dried marijuana per plant and showed pictures of plants taller than 10 feet.
Along the way, the crowd in the overflow room objected loudly.
Andrea Meyer, a lobbyist for the American Civil Liberties Union, was the first in a string of speakers opposed to the proposals.
"When you start adding law enforcement in that authority, we get very concerned that it begins to undermine trust," she said. "I think we all know that law enforcement has always opposed Oregon medical marijuana."
Her remarks were met with applause as were those of an attorney who represents patients and providers in Yamhill and Josephine counties, a military veteran who grows and uses medical marijuana and Robert Wolfe, director of the Oregon Marijuana Policy Initiative.
"I think we're picking o medical marijuana patients because they're easy to get to," Wolfe said. Instead of focusing on "sick people, poor people, dying people" the legislature should focus on drug cartels and gangs.
The hearing ended without any action. Rep. Olson said the committee would continue to accept written remarks through Friday.
"I greatly appreciate all of this," he said. "This is an area that I do have some concern with. But I have really grown with trying to have some understanding."