House backs medical marijuana dispensaries

SALEM — Medical marijuana dispensaries are one step closer to becoming legal in Oregon.

The state House voted 31-27 on Monday to approved a bill that would license and regulate retail outlets that connect marijuana cardholders with the drug. The bill goes next to the Senate, which could vote on it later this week.

Under existing law, the state's nearly 55,000 medical marijuana cardholders must grow the pot themselves or find a person to grow it for them. There are an estimated 200 medical marijuana retail outlets in Oregon now, but they're unregulated and operate in a legal gray area.

House Bill 3460 would give cardholders another option: purchasing their medicine from state-regulated medical marijuana retail outlets.

The bill would require dispensaries to register with the state medical marijuana program and meet certain quality standards.

The bill would prohibit medical marijuana retail outlets from operating near schools, permitting them to operate in agricultural, industrial or commercial areas. And they would be required to test all batches of marijuana for pesticides, molds and mildews.

Supporters say dispensaries would help patients get access to the medicine they need. Opponents say the bill doesn't do enough to stop abuses of Oregon's medical marijuana system.

Rep. Peter Buckley, an Ashland Democrat and a chief sponsor of the bill, acknowledged that the state's medical marijuana program has problems, but said the bill was never meant to be a panacea.

"This bill focuses on one thing: safe access to medical marijuana for people who are legally qualified to access medical marijuana," Buckley said.

Rep. Andy Olson, an Albany Republican and former Oregon State Police lieutenant, said the bill lacks teeth to crack down on facilities that don't comply with the new regulations.

"I'm a major advocate for those who are in need of marijuana as a medicine," he said. "I am opposed to the abuse."

Olson said he wanted to craft a new bill for the 2014 Legislature to consider that would address his concerns.

— Associated Press

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