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Fix medical marijuana tracking system

Oregon’s system for tracking medical marijuana is a mess of the state’s own making. It will take the Legislature to straighten things out. Doing so should get high priority in the 2019 legislative session.

The Oregon Health Authority, which oversees medical marijuana, has been unable to inspect growers enough to deter those growing weed illegally. In fact, according to an article that appeared in Friday’s Bulletin, of some 20,000 registered medical marijuana grow sites in the state in 2017, only 58 were inspected. Given those numbers, a would-be illegal grower might well assume the changes of being caught are minuscule.

In a report issued in May, OHA makes no attempt to gloss over its problems keeping up with medical marijuana growers. It does not have enough money to hire enough inspectors to give registration requirements teeth, and its current data systems are not up to the task of keeping up with legislatively ordered licensing requirements.

It’s even difficult for law enforcement to know what is a legal grow and what is not. Deschutes County Sheriff Shane Nelson and District Attorney John Hummel have both complained that the state won’t provide a list of legal medical grow sites in the county. That means county law enforcement needs to make an individual request for each case.

The Oregon Health Authority says confidentiality provisions in the law prevent them from releasing a list. Medical growers — unless they have medical marijuana licenses of their own — are growing pot for specific individuals. Each of the individuals has had to disclose personal information about themselves and the medical conditions that make them eligible to use medical marijuana. Oregon law prohibits the release of any of that information unless it’s been subpoenaed by a law enforcement agency, and without it, law enforcement has no way of knowing what’s legal and what is not.

Each of those problems can be fixed. It’s the Legislature that doles out money to the OHA, and if it hopes to have the state’s medical marijuana laws enforced in any serious way, the agency must be given the money to do so. And lawmakers can no doubt find a way to rewrite existing marijuana law so that law enforcement agencies can obtain lists of growers without unnecessary hassle. Fix the inspections and fix the law.

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