Marijuana dispensary dilemma

Opponents of the expansion of Oregon's medical marijuana program have raised numerous concerns about plans to open dispensaries to serve cardholders in the program. We think those who support the program, and those who support outright legalization, should be just as concerned, but for different reasons.

The state Legislature approved a measure this year that allows the creation of state-regulated medical marijuana dispensaries that can sell marijuana to cardholders. Workers in the dispensaries may be paid, but the dispensaries cannot make a profit.

This was a half-step in dealing with the issues created by Oregon's medical marijuana law, which has been regularly abused, with questionable prescriptions issued for imaginary ailments and too many growers exceeding the quantities they are permitted to grow. Oregon's presumptive medical marijuana has shown up in drug arrests across the country, as some of the excess ends up in the hands of dealers instead of patients.

The dispensary law doesn't prohibit individual growers from continuing to provide the marijuana to patients, but it is an improvement in providing the cardholders a safe and regulated environment in which to buy the drug. It will not end all the abuses by any means, but people who want to obey the law will be able to make their purchases with less worry that their seller is one day going to be led away in handcuffs.

The Legislature also established the Medical Marijuana Dispensary Law Rules Advisory Committee to oversee implementation of the new law. State Rep. Peter Buckley, D-Ashland, is a member of the committee, which held its first meeting last week. The committee is reviewing a variety of options, from limits on how many dispensaries will be allowed in a community to where in that community they will be allowed to operate. Buckley says local communities will have a say in the process, but it's unlikely they would be able to ban them outright.

Opponents have raised concerns about the state forcing the dispensaries on unwilling communities and the possibility that the dispensaries could become the scene of illegal activities.

Given the black eye the existing medical marijuana program has received because of the abuses by some of its participants, marijuana advocates should hope the legislative committee crafts some tough, enforceable rules. The last thing the program, or advocates for even greater marijuana use, need is for the opponents' fears about increased crime to come true.

Buckley says the Legislature will likely place a marijuana legalization law before voters next year, in part to ward off a voter initiative measure that could be just as problem-riddled as the current law. The worst publicity the legalization effort could get would be a string of arrests at the new dispensaries.

Marijuana advocates say authorities need to back off in their scrutiny and harassment of a medical marijuana program that is legal. We agree, but also say those advocates should do everything in their power to ensure that the new dispensaries keep their operations legal and their employees out of the police blotters.

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