Measure 74: Always remember the patients first

By James L. Klahr

The Citizens’ Initiative Review recently spent a week hearing from proponents and opponents of Measure 74, which would allow for the establishment of licensed and regulated medical cannabis dispensaries. After a week of examining the measure, the panel of randomly selected, unbiased voters from all across Oregon endorsed the proposal, writing that “Measure 74 creates a safe, compassionate and prompt access program for Oregon medical marijuana patients, introduces regulation, and is financially sound.” Patient advocates are confident that voters who thoroughly study the measure will come to the same conclusion.

Citizens’ Initiative Review members heard from law enforcement officers and from Andrea Barhwell, deputy drug czar under President George W. Bush (and currently a consultant for GW Pharmaceuticals working toward FDA approval for its cannabis-based medicine, Sativex), who contended that marijuana is not a medicine and that Measure 74 leaves too many decisions up to the Oregon Health Authority. The intiative review panelists even read a recent editorial in The Oregonian that criticized the measure as “nothing more or less than a backdoor effort to expand marijuana use” and that questioned why supporters were continuing “the medical marijuana charade.” In the end, the panel did just what Measure 74 advocates have done: They placed the needs of patients first.

While most activists who support medical marijuana also support its legalization for all adults (it should be noted that most herbal remedies are available over the counter), there’s no charade: Those who worked hard to qualify Measure 74 for the ballot and are now working for its passage this November believe that sick and disabled patients who wish to utilize a nontoxic herbal medicine to improve their quality of life should have safe access to cannabis. And since legalization is not on the ballot, Measure 74 should be debated on its own merits.

The Citizens’ Initiative Review panel also heard from several patients, including Measure 74’s co-chief petitioner Alice Ivany, a grandmother who lost an arm in an industrial accident. After registering with the Oregon Medical Marijuana Program, Ivany went 17 months without any medical cannabis because of a lack of safe access. She became involved with Measure 74 because she doesn’t want any other patient to go through the same painful wait.

Advocates of Measure 74 believe in the establishment of a nonprofit dispensary program because of patients such as Ivany. They don’t want to see patients denied access to a medicine that provides recognized benefits for many serious conditions, some of which may not respond to other treatments.

Greg Barton, a former Oregon assistant attorney general and current legal counsel for Oregon Green Free, finished the closing argument for Measure 74 proponents at the Citizens’ Initiative Review. Barton, with his experience reviewing state administrative rules and working for Oregon’s chief law enforcement officer, was scheduled to reiterate the regulations established by Measure 74 and the Oregon Health Authority’s ability to competently regulate dispensaries. But instead of sticking to the script, Barton shared his personal story, describing how medical cannabis had improved the health and quality of life for his wife, who has been ill for the past five years. In the end, Barton did the right thing and brought the focus back to the patients.

As we debate Measure 74 and marijuana law reform in general, we need to do the same: Always remember the patients.