With one hand, Lindsey Bradshaw hoisted his food bag onto his back, arranging the tube that has helped feed him since cancer ravaged his stomach seven years ago. In his other hand, he clutched a small gold bowl of marijuana and a pipe.
He depends on both devices to get through the day.
One of 36,380 patients registered with the Oregon Medical Marijuana Program, Bradshaw is a gardener who grows most of his own medical marijuana — one of two options that program participants have. They can also buy from a producer who sells to four or fewer people.
Those options leave people dry if they don’t know a producer and are too sick to grow their own, Bradshaw said.
But that could change, if a ballot measure to create a system of medical marijuana dispensaries passes.
The measure certified for the November ballot July 16, but has not received a ballot number yet. It would establish Oregon as the seventh state to set up a state-regulated dispensary system.
Growth of state-regulated models began popping up across the United States after October 2009, when President Barack Obama loosened enforcement of the federal law on marijuana possession, as long as people comply with their state’s law.
Proponents of dispensaries say they would make access easier for thousands of sick Oregonians, but Oregon police and officials from other states with dispensaries caution that access can spiral out of control, resulting in unregistered dispensaries and illegal users. In Los Angeles, a mess of unregistered and dangerous dispensaries was the result of a “hodge-podge of competing and contrasting laws and ordinances,” from the city, county and state regulating marijuana, said Tony Bell, spokesman for Los Angeles County Supervisor Michael Antonovich.
The city placed a moratorium on new dispensaries in November 2007, but hundreds sprung up anyway. In June, the city ordered more than 400 dispensaries to close in an attempt to regain control of the marijuana industry.
In Colorado, Ron Hyman, the state registrar of vital statistics, received less than 5,000 applications for marijuana dispensaries in 2008. Now he gets 1,000 every day.
Colorado placed a one-year ban on new dispensaries and switched to a state-run system meant to reduce customer complaints about quality and cleanliness, Hyman said.
In Oregon, dispensaries would be nonprofits registered with the Department of Health, and have yearly licenses. The department would be in charge of monitoring and inspections.
Dispensaries would prevent illness from mold or insects, which can occur when inexperienced users attempt to grow their own marijuana, Bradshaw said. Licensed patients who want to continue to grow their own medical marijuana could still do so.
Dispensaries could also offer different strains of marijuana with properties best suited to patients’ symptoms, commonly severe pain or muscle spasms.
For Bradshaw, getting to select certain strains would be helpful, he said. The 62-year-old lost his spleen, a kidney, part of his stomach, colon and pancreas to Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. He takes various drugs to deal with the pain, but said opiates like oxycodone leave him in a haze.
Proponents of the initiative, like Bradshaw, say putting the state in charge would keep dispensaries safe.
But Sgt. Erik Fisher of the Oregon police Drug Enforcement Section said that wouldn’t make a difference. If dispensaries appear in Oregon, honest patients would soon be in the minority, Fisher said. All you have to do is look at California where the dispensaries opened the door for more abuse, he said.
If someone purchased $40 in medical marijuana at an Oregon dispensary, “what’s to prevent them from sticking that…in a FedEx package, sending it to New York and making $600?
“It’ll make it easier to skirt the law,” he said. “You make it more available to patients, you make more available to criminals.”
Dispensaries are an obvious location for crime, Bell said, and can endanger the public. “Communities just don’t want them in their areas.”
John Sajo, who helped draft the ballot initiative, agreed that medical marijuana stores in California are “little more than gangs with storefronts.” Oregon would be different, he said, because the measure on the ballot eliminates most of the gray areas that caused issues in California.
The average patient in Oregon is also “older, sicker and poorer,” than many of the California patients who are in their 20s, Sajo said.
Bradshaw said he’s one of those patients, and his marijuana usage is not provoking crime. “Me smoking in my living room doesn’t have anything to do with a school three blocks away. What, I’m going to run down and say, ‘Hey girl, want to smoke pot?’ No.”
The measure restricts where dispensaries can open — they must be 1,000 feet away from schools and residential neighborhoods. It does not limit the number of dispensaries that can open.
Advocates say the dispensaries would bring much-needed revenue to the state. Dispensaries would make between $10 million and $40 million in the first year, Sajo predicted.
Producers would have to pay a $1,000 fee and distributors a $2,000 fee to cover program-operating costs, and would give 10 percent of their revenue back to the state. The health department could pick where to allocate the funds.
The department has not analyzed possible impacts of the initiative or planned how they would regulate dispensaries, said Dr. Grant Higginson, the state public health officer who worked with the explanatory statement of the initiative for the ballot.
The Oregon Medical Marijuana Program currently registers cardholders and their caregivers — it has nothing to do with inspections or regulations. If the initiative were to pass, he said, it would transform the program.