Legal Marijuana in Salem
Most observers believe that marijuana, medicinal and otherwise, will soon become legal in Oregon. It is conceivable it will happen this year.
By the end of the session next month, Oregon lawmakers may weigh in on SB 1556, which would allow adults 21 and over the right to possess 8 oz. marijuana. If the Legislature approves SB1556, it will go on the November ballot as a referral.
Whether the referral is on the ballot or not, voters will be marking their opinions in November anyway; on Initiative 21 (which amends the state Constitution to permit adult use for any reason,) Initiative 22 (which creates a commission to regulate pot, and permits adult possession of up to 1.5 pounds or 24 home plants,) or Initiative 37 (which allows possession, manufacture and sale to adults as long as it is licensed and taxed by the State Liquor Control Commission.)
For SB 1556 to go into effect it will not only need to be approved by the Legislature, but also will have to receive more votes than Initiatives 22 or 37 in the general election.
The referral and the three Initiatives make no distinction between recreational and medicinal marijuana use.
January 1st, Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome was added to the list of conditions that can be treated with Medical Marijuana in Oregon and, starting March 3, a bill signed by Governor Kitzhaber last year will begin State regulation of dispensaries.
It’s like that all over. In October, a Gallup poll found that 58% of Americans favor the legalization of the drug; in December, the FDA approved studies to begin on the use of cannabis for the treatment of intractable epilepsy in children; in January, President Obama said he believed marijuana is no more dangerous than alcohol.
While the recreational use of marijuana was approved in The State of Washington last year, any patient in Oregon who needs the drug for medicinal use must register with the Medical Marijuana Program and receive an OMMP card issued by the state.
In the way it has created laws regulating both patients and dispensaries, the state is at odds with the Federal Department of Justice, which is officially committed to enforcement of the Controlled Substances Act that makes marijuana illegal.
Because of this conflict, the State or Oregon takes pain to say, “Nothing in Oregon law protects dispensaries, growers, caregivers or patients from federal prosecution.” The Department of Justice, with its own careful wording, says that as a general matter, in states like Oregon that have medical marijuana laws, it doesn’t believe it should focus federal recourses “on individuals who are ‘in clear and unambiguous compliance with existing state laws providing for the medical use of marijuana.’”
Salem currently has about 6 legal brick and mortar dispensaries and a few mobile clinics. These are in addition to the scores of illegal dealers that some use because they don’t have the OMMP card.
One Local Clinic
As the 11 a.m. opening time approaches at 1st Choice Cannabis Club on Liberty Street, a group forms outside. Patients shrug to keep warm in the cold and speak quietly to each other. When the doors finally open, they greet the staff with a palpable feeling of community.
“I use medical marijuana to help get me through my day,” says Ashley Shirley. Shirley has suffered fibromyalgia, hot flashes and seizures for many years, “some for my whole life,” she says, though her symptoms worsened 6 years ago.
“Medical marijuana helps me when oxycodone doesn’t,” Shirley says, “and for that, this place is a godsend. The camaraderie and friendships are a joy. I love this place and what it provides for people.”
Shirley’s husband, Adam, also a patient, says he was resistant to treating himself with the drug.
“I was against smoking,” he says, “my grandmother died from lung cancer. And there’s a stigma around marijuana; that it’s recreational, that people just use it to get high. I thought it was like cocaine, I had no education regarding medical use.”
Adam’s perception changed when traditional drugs did not help a condition that began a few years ago. His cyclic vomiting was so severe that he lost 100 pounds in six months, and three teeth fell out from the high levels of acid in his mouth.
“My wife convinced me one day when I felt I was dying,” he says. “I tried my first bowl in the living room. Nothing happened to my head – but my nausea vanished. I felt like eating my first real meal in 6 months.”
Now that he medicates enough to function normally, Adam faces difficulties finding employment. Well-employed before the illness disabled him, he now can’t get hired at businesses which require a drug test. Since he has a medical card and is registered through the State, Adam admits, “It’s frustrating that, once you’re well again and able to work, you’re not eligible to get some jobs.”
The Patient Grower Network (PGN) Lounge in Keizer is the only area clinic that allows patients to be accompanied inside by a caregiver who does not possess an OMMP card.
The activity and resource center welcomes patients into a stress-free environment where they can medicate as they enjoy board games, live music, pool, poker, reading and bingo.
“We want to give patients lots of things to do,” says a staff member. “Patients are accepted here; everyone has an illness, and most have chosen not to medicate with prescription drugs like methadone, oxycodone and morphine.” Many have already experienced devastating side effects of these conventional drugs, such as the loss of liver and kidneys.
Although the staff never gives medical advice, they note that in the thirteen years the Lounge has been open, “we’ve had 32 people quit cigarettes, 14 get off methadone and 17 get off oxycodone and morphine.”
85 – 90% of patients bring someone with them to PGN. This is encouraged, both for the support it provides patients and because companions – who are not allowed to medicate – can provide a reliable ride home. “I don’t know of a bar in town that can say that!” the manager says.
PGN provides information on growing medicine to patients. Patients can meet with growers and learn how to grow their own medicine. A doctor is generally present on Thursday nights to evaluate individuals and possibly provide the documentation needed for an OMMP card.
Having a doctor on the premises is important, says the Lounge manager, because “so many ‘regular’ doctors have been threatened for prescribing marijuana. So, really, normally they’ll only sign cards for patients with a terminal illness. But we’ve had many of our patients tell their doctors about their success [with marijuana] and are so passionate they’ve begun to change their doctor’s minds.”
At The Green Room, the dispensary next door to PGN Lounge, “budtender” Kelly Fabry displays 23 varieties of the herb, all supplied by approved growers and all organically grown. Donations are $10/gram for most types, but a few are always on special for a donation of $5/gram. The Green Room also offers oil gel caps, used to relieve fibromyalgia, baked goods, oils and other products.
The Green Room enforces strict requirements for growers they represent, Fabry explains. “We only work with people who take care of their patients first,” she says, referring to the establishment’s insistence that every grower care for four marijuana patients at no cost prior to being represented there.
The Green Room discusses the characteristics of each variety with patients. “Daytime” herbs help with stress and anxiety relief, and relief from seizures. They ease body tensions without so much of a “head high.” In contrast, “Night” varieties are heavier strains for people who suffer insomnia. Also offered are many that possess elements of both “day” and “night.” Profiles of each are on file, listing chemical composition and medicinal qualities.