Out of the shadows

Oregon's patchwork medical marijuana law would get some needed help from a bill to register dispensaries to distribute the drug to patients. House Bill 3460 cleared the House Health Care Committee Monday and is now in Ways and Means. It should continue to advance.

The state medical marijuana system, such as it is, was created by voter initiative in 1998. It permits patients who hold a medical marijuana card to possess and use marijuana to relieve the symptoms of debilitating medical conditions such as cancer.

Under the law as it now stands, patients may grow their own marijuana or arrange for a state-registered grower to produce it for them. They may not purchase it, and growers may not charge for it except to be reimbursed for their actual costs.

HB 3460 would allow nonprofit dispensaries to register with the state to dispense marijuana to cardholders who cannot or do not wish to grow their own or have difficulty connecting with a grower. The dispensaries would be restricted to commercial, industrial or agricultural zones. They would be prohibited within 1,000 feet of a school, and would have to be at least 1,000 feet from another dispensary.

Dispensaries would be permitted to obtain marijuana from a state-designated grower, and would be exempt from state laws against distributing marijuana. Operators would have to pass a criminal background check, keep records of how much marijuana comes into their shop, and verify that it comes from state-registered growers. Marijuana handled by dispensaries would have to be tested for pesticides, mold and other impurities.

Oregon's medical marijuana program is far from perfect. It serves the needs of those patients who can either grown their own or make the necessary connection with a grower.

But disabled patients may have transportation issues, be physically unable to grow for themselves or live in a facility where that is prohibited. Retail outlets are a reasonable solution, and this bill contains enough safeguards to protect patients and the public.

Dispensaries exist around the state now, but they operate in a gray area, unregulated by the state. In some areas, authorities have shut them down. HB 3460 would bring them into the light and allow them to operate under reasonable limits.

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