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DON’T SMOKE THE MESSENGER: Is the Oregon Health Authority Hurting Patients?

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The Oregon Health Authority is currently taking comments on the proposal to change the Medical Marijuana Program. Along with many changes that increase security and accountability, they are also proposing to move the date of compliance for growers up significantly, March 1, 2016, a year earlier than was previously proposed. And as can be  imagined, this has the army of Southern Oregon medical marijuana growers in an uproar. Over 350 growers and patience flooded the Medford Public Library last Wednesday, January 27, to let the OHA know what they think about the changes. They want the OHA to scrap the whole proposal.

The group of growers and patients have a point—many of the changes that that OHA is proposing will negatively affect those most vulnerable, low income patients that rely of the compassionate care of their grower for a safe supply of medicine that they would otherwise not be able to afford at the dispensary. The swift changes are expensive: high-tech security systems, expensive fencing projects, most of these small growers will have a difficult time affording these changes, and may choose to forgo their garden this year, leaving patients without their lifesaving, and life enhancing medicine.  

Which leads to questions the OHA: where is the compassion that first brought Medical Marijuana to the state in the first place? In a state that seems to actually hold compassion as a guiding ideal- legal physician assisted death as an example- these changes are a regression.

But when you take a look at some of the impacts of the Green Rush that has been seeing an uptick for the last few years, it clearer  to see why the OHA would like to “clamp down” on growers more. Especially here in Southern Oregon, it is easy to see all the new grows that have popped up everywhere- right in plain view, and easy to find a neighbor or two, who are not growing, but have to suffer dry wells, fertilizer and pesticide run-off, and an influx of transient trimmers in their previously quiet neighborhood. Add to this the patchworks of forest lands that are cleared to make way for gardens that are just as damaging to the ecosystem as the clearcuts that activists have been fighting for decades.

Not to mention the black market. Since growers up to this point have not had to keep track of their yields, it is a fairly common practice that growers provide their obligated medicine to their patients, often at no charge, and then excess product goes…where? Maybe to a dispensary, where it can be tested and legal sold. But just as often (if not more so) it finds its way to the East Coast, or some other location where marijuana’s illegal status creates a higher price than can be found in Oregon- who is quickly gaining a reputation as the cheapest state in the union to buy weed.

But don’t get the idea that the black market is necessarily a bad thing. It could be reasoned that these funds acquired from the excess has largely been fueling the economy of Southern Oregon. From restaurant and retail, to the whole industry of soil, amendments and infrastructure, these monies have kept business alive during a very economically depressed time.

Examining these proposed changes, it is clear that these rule changes could force many small growers out of the business, leaving only the large growers, who have enough capital to actually afford the required changes, alive. The small farmer, the compassionate care-givers, the root of the OMMP, would be left in the cold, and Oregon would be yet another state choosing big business over the wellbeing of its citizens.

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