In many ways, Oregon is a leader on cannabis policy in the United States. The state was the first to decriminalize personal possession in 1973, was an early medical state in 1998, the third to vote in legalization in 2014, and really led the nation on decreasing criminal penalties across the board and expunging old marijuana offenses. Since implementing regulated sales, the cannabis industry has doubled the amount of tax revenue that the state initially projected and has created thousands of jobs. Unfortunately, lost in the shuffle too often has been the plight of patients and the Oregon Medical Marijuana Program (OMMP) needs to do more for its residents suffering from severe and debilitating medical conditions.

Ask any longtime medical cannabis activist and they will tell you that the OMMP has rarely enacted any policies that benefit patients, with Oregon Health Authority bureaucrats often clinging to the ridiculous notion that they were prohibited from advocating for OMMP patients. The OHA’s recently released report, “Oregon medical marijuana program operations and compliance assessment,” sadly focuses almost entirely on the lack of inspections and oversight of medical gardens, without mentioning the severe decrease in the number of registered patients and the plight of patients, particularly those with low incomes.

Longtime activist Anthony Taylor of Compassionate Oregon covered the issue in a piece for the Oregon Cannabis Connection:

The unwritten policy-that the OHA will not advocate for the OMMP and the patients it serves-has left it on the sidelines. It should have had a frank discussion with the legislature over the impact of the changes it made over last five years and the effect it would have on patients, and what should be done to enhance patient access rather than stifle it or, in the minds of some, destroy it altogether.

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Misunderstanding issues facing patients in the workplace, in professional careers, and in public service has led to policy that has only increased costs for patients and their growers and has limited their access to the quality medicines they have received nearly for free for many years.

I sent out a press release on behalf of New Approach Oregon (the PAC responsible for the Measure 91 legalization law) that stated:

Understandably, Oregon officials are concerned about federal interference in our state’s medical and recreational programs after Attorney General Jeff Sessions rescinded the Obama administration’s Cole Memo that allowed state cannabis programs to operate under a set of federal guidelines. However, the state’s concerns regarding any potential federal action have now gone too far as too much attention has been placed on acquiescing to the Trump administration and too little attention is being placed on the needs of Oregon’s patients suffering from sick and debilitating medical conditions.

The recently released Oregon Medical Marijuana Program Operations and Compliance Assessment spent too much time focusing on the lack of inspections and too much space congratulating the program on providing safe access to patients. Over 20,000 patients have left the state’s medical program and not once does the report address that issue. Overly burdensome regulations have pushed out many compassionate growers and low-income patients, but the Oregon Health Authority (OHA) hasn’t ever considered the needs of the people in the program.

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New Approach Oregon is asking the Oregon Health Authority to put patients first. Survey patients in the OMMP and those that have left the OMMP to find out what they need to improve their lives and alleviate their serious medical conditions. Politics are changing rapidly at the national level. Oregon should not be putting the wants of Jeff Sessions and Donald Trump over the needs of Oregon patients.

It is good that Oregon patients don’t have to pay any tax at Oregon retail cannabis establishments. It is great that the Beaver State is creating thousands of jobs and generating millions of dollars in revenue. It’s amazing that arrests for marijuana have plummetted. But Oregon can still do better. We need to always remember the sickest and poorest among our community and keep a focus on policies that help patients.

The International Cannabis Business Conference this September 27th-28th is a great opportunity for the Oregon cannabis community to come together to network and discuss how to effectively help Oregon’s industry AND patients. The ICBC is a business conference, but it is one that keeps a focus on the pillars of the legalization movement: keeping people out of prison and helping sick and disabled patients. Get your “early bird” tickets by September 12th.