By Mike Liszewski | Published in Safe Access Now
On Wednesday, Oregon joined the growing number of states that have enacted laws that permit a system of state-approved medical cannabis dispensaries. Oregon joins Nevada,New Hampshire, and Illinois as the four states that adopted medical cannabis dispensary laws in 2013.
While the New Hampshire and Illinois laws are for entirely new programs, Nevada and Oregon had preexisting programs, but lacked an official state-approved process for dispensaries to operate.
Some cities and towns in Oregon have tolerated dispensaries, although there was no clearly legal means for patients to purchase medicine from a brick and mortar retail location. In fact, there are currently almost 200 dispensaries operating in Oregon today without licensure or regulation.
The law (HB 3460) does not significantly overhaul the existing medical cannabis program. Instead, it merely allows those who are currently authorized to cultivate medicine to sell it to dispensaries while granting dispensaries the right to sell the medicine to patients in the program. The specific rules for how dispensaries may apply and operate will be set forth during the regulatory process.
“This is the next step in ensuring a system that provides safe access to as many patients as possible while making sure these facilities are holding themselves to a high standard of conduct,” said Sam Chapman, a lobbyist for Oregonians for Medical Rights who helped draft the bill. “Now we need to make sure those who are operating facilities understand their responsibilities to their patients and their communities.” Chapman’s sentiments were echoed in parts of Governor Kitzhaber’s signing letter.
With Oregon and Nevada clearing their respective “gray markets” of ambiguous laws for dispensaries, several other states, such as California, Michigan, and Washington are currently experiencing this dilemma. While the need for dispensaries for medical cannabis dispensaries is urgent everywhere they do not currently exist, Washington state has the most pressing need due to the implementation of I-502.
In the months since I-502 passed, state officials from the Liquor Control Board, police agencies and certain lawmakers have been working to merge the current medical cannabis program in the state’s newly adopted recreational marijuana law. This would mean that patients would be subjected to step excise taxes and will likely result in shortages of high CBD-strains.
“It is wholly inappropriate to force us to get our medicine from anything resembling a liquor store and equally unacceptable to make patients pay an excise tax,” says Paul Feldman, a WA patient who experiences relief with the help of medical cannabis. ”No other medication (in Washington state) is taxed this way and cannabis shouldn’t be either.”
Washington nearly enacted a dispensary law in 2011 with SB 5073, but then-Governor Gregoire used her line item veto power to strike down the dispensary portions of the bill. The lack of clear laws on dispensaries combined with the desire to squeeze patients into the I-502 system is why state medical cannabis patient advocates have teamed up with ASA to launch the Health Before Happy Hour campaign.
The goal of the Health Before Happy Hour campaign is not to block implementation of I-502, but to make sure patients have safe and legal access points to purchase medical cannabis in a manner consistent with what voters approved in 1998 when 59% of voters approved when passing I-692, which did not call for the taxation of medicine. To achieve this, advocates are urging current Governor Jay Inslee to direct the state legislature to pass legislation that permits state-licensed medical cannabis dispensaries.