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Oregon Medical Marijuana Act (OMMA) - Protect It or Lose It by Dr. Rick Bayer

Did you know we nearly lost our Oregon Medical Marijuana Act (OMMA) during Oregon’s 2009 legislative session? Senator Morrisette’s Senate Bill 388 included a prosecutor’s wish list to overturn citizen rights. Amendments would have allowed police to conduct home searches without warrants. Patient confidentiality would have been recklessly violated because the bill mandated our state health department share patient-identifying information with police.

In another 2009 bill, Associated Oregon Industries again attempted to codify workplace discrimination against registered OMMA patients. Businesses that pursue federal contracts ignore real employee impairment and fire Oregonians for being OMMA patients, in spite of the OMMA stating medical marijuana must be treated like other medicines.

Do you want police invading your home without a suggestion of any crime? Do you want your boss to access details of your medical history? What disorder or medicine will become the next item of interest for police or big business?

Patients, advocates, and advocacy groups like Oregon ACLU must repeatedly communicate needs of patients to legislators. We were fortunate in 2009 as the session ended with no change to the OMMA. Unfortunately, efforts to improve the OMMA for patients fail when patients do not contact their legislators.

Outside of Oregon legislative sessions, the OMMA is challenged by Kevin Mannix and wealthy ex-Oregonian Loren Parks. This powerful duo understands money and politics so they can effectively carpet-bag nearly any Oregon law. Mannix has an OMMA-destroying initiative ready for signature circulation if the opportunity arises.

Our OMMA allows Oregonians to use cannabis when our doctor certifies we have a qualifying debilitating condition and that cannabis may help. Debilitating conditions include cancer, glaucoma, wasting (cachexia) caused by HIV infection or other conditions, severe pain, severe nausea, seizures, or persistent muscle spasms like those caused by multiple sclerosis. See http://oregon.gov/DHS/ph/ommp/. Since 1998 when Oregonians approved the OMMA; over 20,000 patients and 3000 doctors have participated.

The Oregon Medical Marijuana Program (OMMP) issues a one-year permit to qualified applicants. The permit allows limited exceptions to state law for growing and possessing cannabis. It is legal for a patient to pay his or her grower for supplies or utilities but not for labor. All cash sales are illegal. Since there is no allowance for patients to sell to each other when growing a garden is not practical, access to medicine is a huge problem.

If a person begins cancer chemotherapy and needs cannabis to control vomiting, he or she can get a permit relatively quickly, but what about the medicine? Our legislature could fix this barrier by amending the OMMA to allow patients to pay for labor, sell small amounts to each other, or allow the OMMP to regulate dispensaries.

In the US, the major barrier to medicine is marijuana prohibition and the major adverse effect is getting arrested. Americans apparently must relearn from alcohol prohibition that crime, corruption, and loss of liberties caused by marijuana prohibition are more damaging than marijuana per se. Many businesses including law enforcement, Big Pharma, and drug testing directly profit from prohibition so hire lobbyists to keep cannabis illegal. Like alcohol prohibition, it will take involved voters to overcome cannabis prohibition.

Since state laws cannot change federal mistakes, cannabis remains illegal. But the good news is a recent Obama administration Department of Justice memo. It instructs the Drug Enforcement Administration and federal prosecutors to stop targeting medical marijuana patients who comply with state laws. This could make it easier for state legislators to follow wishes of Oregon voters.

The OMMA has never been the final reform effort. When we wrote the OMMA in 1997, our vision was to bridge the gap until the feds rescheduled marijuana allowing patients to safely purchase it from pharmacies with a doctor’s prescription.

Since patient fees pay for OMMA administration, it never cost taxpayers a dime. In fact, the OMMP contributed nearly $1 million to the state General Fund in 2005. Although polling showed 76% of Oregonians support “seriously ill patients to use and grow their own medical marijuana with the approval of their physician”, the OMMA continues to face well-financed opposition.

Eleven years after the OMMA was passed into law by Oregon voters, many Oregonians benefit. All of us save money by fewer marijuana prosecutions and a patient-funded OMMA. Most importantly, the OMMA promotes patient self-determination and choice of medicine.

As a chief petitioner, my greatest concern is complacent voters who believe this helpful law will never be revoked or maimed. As our current national healthcare battle shows, patients struggle to be heard over the orchestrated din of highly paid professional lobbyists. We must be our own advocates who regularly write, call, and visit our representatives.

OMMA advocates should include all Oregonians who will ever get sick—not just the ones who are sick today. Oregon healthcare advocates—meaning all of us with a pulse—must protect the OMMA or risk losing this important treatment choice.

Rick Bayer, MD is board-certified in internal medicine, a fellow in the American College of Physicians, and practiced in Oregon for many years. Co-author of Is Marijuana the Right Medicine For You? A Factual Guide to Medical Uses of Marijuana, he was the filing chief petitioner for the Oregon Medical Marijuana Act in 1998, and manages www.omma1998.org that includes a medical cannabis/marijuana bibliography.

AMA Challenges Federal Prohibition of Marijuana

On November 9, the American Medical Association (AMA) called for a scientific review of cannabis’ federal status as a Schedule I prohibited substance.

The AMA’s House of Delegates resolved, “[The] AMA urges that marijuana’s status as a federal Schedule I controlled substance be reviewed with the goal of facilitating the conduct of clinical research and development of cannabinoid-based medicines.”

The AMA’s resolution amends the organization’s previously held position that “marijuana be retained in Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act” of the United States.

Under federal law, all Schedule I classified substances are defined as possessing “no currently accepted use in treatment in the United States.” Congress classified marijuana, and all of the plants naturally occurring compounds (known as cannabinoids) as a Schedule I substance upon passage of the Controlled Substances Act in 1970.

Presently the DEA website, “Exposing the Myths of Smoked Medical Marijuana,” still states, “The American Medical Association recommends that marijuana remain a Schedule I controlled substance.”

In 2008 the American College of Physicians also called for a reclassification of cannabis’ Schedule I status. In recent years, numerous prominent health organizations, including the American Nurses Association and the American Public Health Association, have called for the immediate legalization of marijuana for medical purposes.

In a separate action, the AMA also adopted a report drafted by its Council on Science and Public Health stating, “Results of short term controlled trials indicate that smoked cannabis reduces neuropathic pain, improves appetite and caloric intake especially in patients with reduced muscle mass, and may relieve spasticity and pain in patients with multiple sclerosis.”

This conclusion contradicts a recent White House fact-sheet, entitled “Medical Marijuana Reality Check,” which alleges, “no sound scientific studies have supported medical use of smoked marijuana for treatment in the United States, and no animal or human data support the safety or efficacy of smoked marijuana for general medical use.”


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