Bill would tighten state medical pot access

GRANTS PASS — Former state troopers in the Legislature have revived a bill that would make it harder for people to qualify for a medical marijuana card, and tighten controls on the people growing it.

House Bill 3664 gets a hearing this afternoon in Salem in the Joint Rules Committee.

The bill sets a higher standard for doctors to authorize medical marijuana cards for patients, and imposes tougher restrictions on authorizing marijuana for people under 18. And it would open the entire registry of medical marijuana growers to police four times a year, whether they are investigating a crime or not.

Robert Wolfe of the Oregon Marijuana Policy Initiative said they were left out of meetings to draft the bill, and believe it sets such a high standard for doctors that they would not be able to issue any medical marijuana cards to patients.

Voters in 1998 made Oregon one of the first states in the nation to allow people to use marijuana to treat medical conditions. The Legislature revised the law in 2005 to ease restrictions on how much pot patients and growers could have on hand. This year, lawmakers offered more than a dozen bills to revise the law. A working group of former state troopers offered a bill combining some of the measures, but it failed to make a deadline to get through normal channels.

So the bill went to the Rules Committee, which has later deadlines, making it a haven for bills that fail to get traction.

More than 38,000 Oregonians hold medical marijuana patient cards, 1 percent of the population. More than 24,000 are registered growers. Patients have to grow their own marijuana or get it from an authorized grower, who cannot charge beyond expenses. Cardholders are limited to six mature plants and a pound and a half of processed cannabis at one time. Voters turned down a measure last year that would have allowed cardholders to buy marijuana from dispensaries.

Rep. Andy Olson, R-Albany, is a retired state police lieutenant, lead sponsor of the bill, and co-chairman of the Rules Committee. He did not immediately respond to telephone calls seeking comment, but last month said medical marijuana was "out of control," with patients, growers and caregivers all abusing the intent of voters when they approved the law.

Sen. Floyd Prozanski, D-Eugene, advised backers of the original initiative and is chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee. He said he found it reasonable to tighten up the law by requiring a nationwide criminal background check for cardholders, and limiting cards to Oregon residents.

But he objected to making it harder for doctors to authorize medical marijuana, and throwing open to authorities the confidential list of growers.

Wolfe said police were already abusing the confidential state list of marijuana patients, caregivers and growers. Members of law enforcement agencies went online 51,000 times to check the list of medical marijuana cardholders between Sept. 2009 and Sept. 2010, according to the Oregon Medical Marijuana Program.

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