Several lawmakers this legislative session have alleged that the Oregon Medical Marijuana Program is being abused. They point to the number of registered patients—39,774 and counting—and have proposed more than 20 bills aimed at reining in the program.
But despite complaints about alleged abuse, the proposed budget for the Oregon Health Authority shows that some lawmakers also see the program as a cash machine for filling state coffers.
The proposed state health budget (PDF) would double the yearly fee for a medical-marijuana card from $100 to $200. Licensed growers for the first time would be required to pay a $200 fee. And proposed new rules would slash the number of low-income patients allowed to pay a reduced $20 fee.
The extra money would pay for emergency medical services ($1.8 million), a program for safe drinking water ($3 million), contraceptive care ($1.2 million) and school-based health centers ($500,000). The proposed health budget passed the Senate 19-11 on June 14 and is now in the House.
Medical-marijuana advocates say the proposed change would give Oregon the highest fees of any of the 15 states with medical marijuana. Nevada's fee is highest at $150, and Oregon's $100 fee is second highest.
"To go to the sickest people and expect them to close the budget gap is cruel," says Paul Stanford, a longtime Portland cannabis activist and head of a national chain of medical-marijuana clinics. "We're going to fight it."
The Advisory Committee on Medical Marijuana, a citizens' group, has called an emergency meeting Monday to discuss the proposed change. Stanford says the ACMM—which advises the state on medical-marijuana policy—did not learn about the proposed fee hike until after the bill passed the Senate.
"It's happening clandestinely in a backroom deal, and it stinks in a lot of different ways," Stanford says.
Several sources pointed to Rep. Tim Freeman (R-Roseburg) as the lawmaker responsible for including the fee increase in the proposed budget. Freeman, who co-chairs the human services subcommittee for the Joint Ways and Mean Committee, was perhaps best known this legislative session as the lawmaker behind Oregon adopting the Code of the West. He has not yet responded to phone messages seeking comment.
Rep. Tina Kotek (D-Portland), another co-chair of the human services subcommittee, says Freeman may have hatched the idea. But she and the third subcommittee co-chair, Sen. Alan Bates (D-Medford), agreed with it. Kotek says Gov. John Kitzhaber's proposed health budget left lawmakers with no choice but to fill gaping general-fund holes with fee increases.
"I know that's not a good answer for folks who are directly impacted," Kotek says. "We fully recognize that that could be a burden on some folks. It's a sign of the times in terms of the budget choices we are making."
The Advisory Committee on Medical Marijuana is set to meet Monday, June 20, at 1 pm in room 1-E of the state office building at 800 NE Oregon St., according to the Portland Medical Marijuana Dispensaries Examiner.