With tears in his eyes, Sunny Watkins, patient resource coordinator at the Medical Cannabis Resource Center (MERCY), pointed to a scar across his head and said: “I have half a brain. I got in a motorcycle wreck and they took out the frontal lobe. I have daily seizures, pain in my hips and shoulders, and nausea.”
He takes seizure and blood pressure medications, and he smokes marijuana, which he says allowed him to reduce the amount of prescriptions that he takes on a daily basis.
“I would like to see dispensaries and growers have a regulated system for people who are trying to find their ‘medicine,’ as they call it,” said Cynthia Cote, a family medicine doctor at the Hemp and Cannabis Foundation clinic in Portland, who supports Measure 74.
Cote had never recommended marijuana to her patients. Then, a cancer patient who couldn’t tolerate nausea and pain medicines turned to weed in her last days. “She had never smoked marijuana. She died [after one month] but she wasn’t nauseous and she wasn’t in pain.”
She said the woman sent someone to find her pot on the street, “which was a terrible thing to have to do in her last days.”
Cote said cannabis works for some people, but not for everybody.
“I think it has to do with biochemistry and genetics. Some say marijuana doesn’t completely take care of the pain but it distracts them from it,” she said.
In 1998, Oregon voters decided that marijuana had medical properties and legalized its use for people suffering from debilitating conditions. However, it is a felony for everyone, including patients, to purchase cannabis.
Stormy Ray, executive director of the Stormy Ray Foundation and one of the original co-authors of Oregon Medical Marijuana Act does not support Measure 74.
“This measure allows medical marijuana to be sold. This will put Oregon state workers into violation of the Federal aiding and abetting laws,” expressed Ray, whose group advocates for medical marijuana cardholders.
Ray fears that Measure 74 would increase the price of cannabis because dispensaries would be forced to factor in operating costs. She estimates that the prices could increase for patients to $200-$400 an ounce.
“Patients can grow their own medicine for about $40 to $60 an ounce under OMMA [Oregon Medical Marijuana Act] today,” she said.
But proponents of Measure 74 hope that the unlimited dispensaries allowed in the plan would, instead, bring easier access to the medicine.
“We don’t limit the number of places that sell [alcohol] or guns,” said John Sajo, a lawyer who co-authored the measure. “Growers will be able to earn a legitimate income if they play by the rules,” he said. Currently, growers who provide cannabis to cardholders can only be reimbursed for the costs of production, but they can’t make a profit.
The dispensaries would be regulated by the Oregon Department Human Services and funded though program fees.
Cote said, “Doctors are generally really conservative people. I tell my friends who are doctors to spend one day at some of these clinics [to change their minds].”
“It will make my job easier,” Watkins said, explaining that while MERCY encourages patients to share medicine, the center doesn’t directly provide the cannabis “out of fear of being accused of running a dispensary.”