Medical Marijuana, Money and Motives

   

While certainly not alone, I have been helping lead the fight against Senate Bill 844, a bill that will fundamentally alter the Oregon Medical Marijuana Program and cost some patients their gardens and access to medicine. Thanks to the efforts of patients and concerned citizens, we have postponed the vote and improved the bill, but problematic provisions still remain, most notably:

  • Starting on March 1, 2016, grow sites in residential areas will only be able to grow for 2 patients maximum (12 plants); non-residential locations will only be able to grow for 8 total (48 plants).
  • Growers will be subjected to a fee and inspections (even if growing in their home for just one other person, like their spouse); must report monthly to the Oregon Health Authority and keep those records for 2 years.
  • Any violation of the rules allows OHA to contact law enforcement.

Anyone familiar with the OMMP and many growers, especially those in Southern Oregon, just getting a license is seen as too much government involvement in their lives, let alone monthly reporting and inspections. However, most harmful to me, and many others are the decrease in patient gardens allowed at grow sites. We do know, without a doubt, that at least 475 patients will lose their grow sites due to Senate Bill 844. More patients will certainly lose their medical gardens, but we don’t know exactly how many because we don’t know how many sites are currently located in residential areas.

These plant limits could also have unforeseen consequences such as raising prices at medical cannabis dispensaries or even pushing some people back into the black market. For some, 500 or 1,000 or 5,000 patients losing their gardens is apparently acceptable, but to many of us, it is simply a tragedy that the state is even contemplating unnecessary legislation that will cost any patient his or her supply of medicine.

It has been disheartening to see Republican Senator Jeff Kruse send out a newsletter, calling into question the motives of those that have been working to stop (or at least improve) Senate Bill 844. Senator Kruse stated:

Over this week I have received several hundred emails in opposition to the -6 amendment.  What I am reasonably sure of is those sending the emails did not read the bill.  These emails were generated by the people who have become millionaires in this program, primarily because accountability would dry up their revenue source.  So they scared a whole lot of patients into thinking we were “going to take away their medicine” in an attempt to derail the bill.

Senator Chris Edwards followed suit in his own newsletter, stating, “There has been a lot of misinformation distributed by entities with a financial interest in the current medical program.”

I have certainly not hidden that I own Ashland Alternative Health and Northwest Alternative Health, two of the biggest medical cannabis clinics in Oregon. I also produce the Oregon Medical Marijuana Business Conference (OMMBC) and the International Cannabis Business Conference (ICBC). In many ways, more rules, regulations and red tape will only help increase the number of attendees at the OMMBC and ICBC as people in the industry want to know the impacts of new regulations and what is on the horizon. And I supported Measure 91, despite the fact that legalization could dramatically hinder my medical marijuana clinic businesses. Regardless of whether Senate Bill 844 passes, my businesses will do fine, but I can’t say the same thing for Oregon’s most vulnerable medical marijuana patients.

Legislators should be looking at the business interests of those that wish to further regulate the OMMP and decrease the number of patient gardens. The primary business interests pushing Senate Bill 844 and other OMMP regulations are marijuana businesses planning on primarily engaging in the Measure 91 recreational market set to start in the latter half of 2016. These business interests are apparently afraid of the competition from the medical market and likely feel that they can jump through extra hoops that smaller mom and pops cannot.

At the top of the list of business interests pushing for OMMP regulations is Privateer, a Seattle-based company that hopes to brand its Marley Natural marijuana products across the country. Brendan Kennedy, Privateer’s CEO, was asked by Willamette Week, who was advocating for residency requirements in the marijuana industry, he answered, “Bootleggers and criminals.” Privateer is currently using a portion of its millions of dollars to lobby the Oregon Legislature to regulate the OMMP exactly the same as the OLCC recreational system, a policy that will only increase the price of medical marijuana and push growers out of the OMMP altogether.

The Cannabis PAC, formerly the Growers PAC, is a an Oregon business entity that is also seeking legislation that will benefit its members, primarily Portland-area indoor growers. These business people supported House Bill 2676 (an OLCC takeover of the medical program), saw no problem with the severe plant restrictions (maximum of 24 in commercial areas!) in Senate Bill 936 and has praised Senate Bill 844 as a “good piece of legislation.” The lobbyist for the Cannabis PAC, a medical marijuana grower and dispensary owner himself, is on record stating that his PAC’s “members are primarily interested in joining the recreational market.”

I have absolutely no qualms with anyone making millions of dollars in the recreational marijuana market, in Oregon or anywhere in the country. However, I do have a problem with business interests sucking every dime out of the OMMP and working to make more and more money at the expense of sick and disabled patients. I am proud that I have stood up for the sickest and poorest patients, those without the means to hire lobbyists, and I will continue to do so. If my motives, and the motives of everyone else seeking to maintain the OMMP are called into question, then I have no choice but to shine a light on those that wish to dramatically change the OMMP as their business interests should certainly be considered as well.

Alex Rogers

Alex Rogers is co-owner of Marijuana Politics. He is an experienced cannabis law reform advocate, getting his start in the 1990s under the tutelage of legendary activist Jack Herer. Alex is also CEO of Ashland Alternative Health, and Northwest Alternative Health, medical cannabis clinics that help register patients with the Oregon Medical Marijuana Program. Additionally, Alex is the executive producer of industry business conferences that work to further professionalize and mainstream the cannabis and hemp industries. He started the Oregon Medical Marijuana Business Conference (OMMBC), the first medical marijuana business conference of its kind in Oregon. Following the success of the OMMBC, Rogers started organizing the first International Cannabis Business Conference (ICBC), a unique event bringing in activists and entrepreneurs with valuable experience from across the globe.