Measure on Marijuana Dispensaries in Oregon Defeated

Last November, Oregon voters defeated Measure 74, a proposal that would have permitted the state to establish medical marijuana dispensaries. Fifty-eight percent of the voters were opposed. But proponents of medical marijuana see this as a temporary setback and hope to have the measure back on the 2012 ballot.

The measure would have allowed Oregon to form a statewide infrastructure of dispensaries, similar to those already in place in Rhode Island, New Mexico and Maine. California allows dispensaries as well, but leaves regulation up to the individual cities and counties. Opponents of the measure contended that the law left too much room for abuse and was only an attempt to legalize marijuana.

Oregon's Current Dispensary Law

Oregon permits dispensing marijuana for medical purposes. But the 40,000 patients who hold medical marijuana cards have to either grow it themselves or go to licensed caregivers, or organizations that distribute marijuana that has been donated by other patients. Proponents of Measure 74 contended that this unnecessarily restricts access to medical marijuana and encourages a black market.

Measure 74 would have regulated dispensaries on a statewide level and given the Oregon Health Authority the ability to develop rules on locations, safety, and inspections, as well as penalties for rule violations. The measure did not limit the number of dispensaries, which opponents felt would have resulted in an excess of marijuana and encouraged sale to non-patients. There were also no standards for the quality of the marijuana being sold.

California's experience with dispensaries was a significant issue in the debate in Oregon on Measure 74. Opponents were quick to use emotional arguments against the measure, including the specter of lawlessness and criminal gang involvement. Oregonians are likely to insist on more facts and less rhetoric the next time around. In the meantime, drug charges for marijuana possession or distribution remain serious concerns.

Medical Marijuana and Federal Law

There remains, however, the issue of how medical marijuana laws relate to federal law. Although several states have legalized medical marijuana, federal law still lists marijuana as a Schedule 1 controlled substance. At the federal level, the Controlled Substances Act is based on the premise that marijuana has a high potential for abuse and has no medical benefits.

The Obama administration has eased the rigid enforcement of the drug laws as they apply to medical marijuana. This is a clear departure from the Bush policies that encouraged raids on dispensaries. But Attorney General Eric Holder has stated that his office will continue to go after traffickers who use medical marijuana dispensaries as a shield. Under federal law, a conviction for growing 100 marijuana plants carries a 5-year mandatory minimum prison sentence. For 1000 plants that mandatory minimum sentence jumps to ten years.

If you are facing marijuana charges, or just have questions about the status of the law, contact an experienced attorney. A marijuana defense lawyer can explain what your rights are.


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