October 11, 2012

The Oregonian Supports Taxing Marijuana, But Only If We Lie About It

October 11, 2012
Growing weed for beginners indoors often involves an indoor grow tent.

the oregonian medical marijuana editorial board staffThe Oregonian’s Reefer Madness Continues

Today marijuana activists in Oregon (and beyond!) were treated with two of the best articles I have read in awhile. The first one is by the legendary Radical Russ Belville, and originally appeared on his website, which I strongly encourage all TWB readers to check out early and often. There’s a ton of great stuff over there and Radical Russ is always working extra hard to post new material on just about every media format there is possible. The second article is by one of my heroes, Executive Director of the National Cannabis Coalition Anthony Johnson. As I’ve said before, the National Cannabis Coalition is making BIG moves, and I encourage readers to check out their site as well!

Kudos to both Anthony and Radical Russ for calling out the largest media outlet in Oregon. Click here to support Radical Russ financially, and click here to donate to the National Cannabis Coalition – both very, very worthy causes! It wasn’t that long ago that I had to write an open letter to a reporter at the Oregonian for trying to throw TWB under the bus during the Oregon Attorney General race…I feel the need to point it out yet again – Oregonian reporter Susan Nielsen, do you still feel that you were doing the right thing by promoting Dwight Holton at all costs, even after you now have egg all over your face after Ellen Rosenblum trounced him at the primary? When will the Oregonian admit that they are wrong on this issue, or at the very least, quit being so biased against the Oregon marijuana community???

The Oregonian Supports Taxing Marijuana, But Only If We Lie About It – By Radical Russ Belville

The most recent editorial from the Oregonian, Medical marijuana fees are not too high, is such a frightening collision of vacuity and mercilessness that Kim Kardashian should read it aloud while wearing a Marie Antoinette costume for Halloween.

The issue at hand is a piece by their own Noelle Crombie, Higher medical marijuana fees support “slush fund,” hurt patients, Oregon advocates say.  In that piece, medical marijuana advocates cry foul over the recent administrative rise in program fees for a program that is cutting what few services it offers while running annual surpluses.  The legislature increased the annual fee from $100 to $200, instituted a new $100 lost/changed registration fee, instituted a new $50 fee to register a third-party grower, and raised the fee for low-income patients from $20 to $100 while tightening the qualification standards to qualify for that reduced fee.

According to the report, the state took in $8.8 million in medical marijuana “protection money” most of which it distributed to Clean Drinking Water ($3m), emergency medical services ($1.75m), family planning ($1.1m), and school health centers ($500,000).  Advocates point out that these are fine programs, but why balance state budgets on the backs of sick and disabled people, many of whom are on fixed incomes?  If you want to make money for the state taxing marijuana, why not legalize it for all and tax the healthy people?

That’s where the Oregonian comes in.  Their view is that these fee increases do exactly that.

Should Oregonians feel bad about this? A little, maybe. Should lawmakers reduce fees to previous levels as soon as possible? No. In fact, you could argue that what has happened to the medical marijuana program is exactly what those who’d like to loosen the state’s marijuana laws even further claim to want: The state’s using pot to generate revenue.

So the glaucoma patient living on $700 a month disability, who already has to come up with $175 to get the clinic recommendation, now has to go from a $20 annual fee to a $150 annual fee?  And we should only feel a little bit of remorse over this?

In any case, truly sick people shouldn’t blame lawmakers for the fee hikes. They should blame the people who designed such an easily abused program and, of course, the thousands of people who’ve abused it.

This “abuse” we’re talking about, of course, is The Oregonian’s shibboleth of “hordes of recreational card-holders”.  Abuse that involves a person:

  1. collecting their medical records from three prior visits to a physician within the past three years (estimated cost of three doctor appointments and collecting records = $600);
  2. presenting those records to another doctor at a medical marijuana clinic (estimated cost = $175);
  3. filling out forms with the state government indicating who he is, where he lives, where he’ll grow marijuana, and agreeing to abide by program limits; and,
  4. paying the state now $250 for absolutely no service aside from protection from arrest and being logged in a database accessible by law enforcement.

That’s the “abuse”.  For an outlay of over a thousand dollars, a person who might have been smoking and growing pot secretly is now doing so under state registration.  Before he was most likely getting away with it, returning nothing to the state, or he was getting caught and costing the state police, judicial, and prison resources.  Now he’s pumping money into the economy, creating jobs for doctors and medical techs, and generating $8.8 million to help the state with clean drinking water.

How does The Oregonian prove this “abuse”?  Do they list any of the “hordes” whose cards have been rejected by the state?  Do they cite fraudulent applications?  Do they provide percentages of cardholders who are found out of compliance with the program’s limits?  Nope.  The “abuse” is self-evident, The Oregonian claims, because there are just so many patients.

As of Oct. 1, there were nearly 57,000 card-holders in the state’s medical marijuana program, of whom fewer than 4,000 combined suffer from cancer, HIV/AIDS or glaucoma: three of the conditions most commonly cited by Measure 67-s supporters. The most frequently cited qualifying medical condition — and perhaps the most difficult to disprove — is severe pain, claimed by 55,400 of those roughly 57,000 card-holders (people can cite more than one condition).

The Oregonian always likes to cite the 1998 Voter’s Pamphlet as if the pro-medical marijuana arguments were fooling Oregonians and there were only supposed to be 500 cardholders.  Obviously they’ve dropped that line now that they are citing 4,000 patients with cancer, HIV/AIDS, and glaucoma.  They never seem to cite Stormy Ray’s pro argument from that pamphlet where this multiple sclerosis patient says “There are thousands of patients like me- people suffering from cancer, AIDS, glaucoma, epilepsy, and a host of other diseases or illnesses that threaten their lives.”  Or the New England Journal of Medicine’s “Thousands of patients with cancer, AIDS, and other diseases report they have obtained striking relief from these devastating symptoms by smoking marijuana.”

It’s nice to see The Oregonian’s caveat that “people can cite more than one condition” after pointing out 55 of the 57 thousand cardholders claim “difficult to disprove” severe pain.  I could say “The Oregonian is guilty of libel, slander, fraud, child porn, kidnapping, terrorism, treason, and being a poorly-written fish-wrapper (only one of these charges is true)” and I’d have the same sort of journalistic integrity.

The fact is that there are 15,211 OMMP cardholders with Multiple Sclerosis.  You wanna bet that causes some severe pain?  How about the 8,355 using cannabis for nausea; how many of them have Crohn’s disease or IBS or something else that causes a lot of severe pain along with that nausea?  I wonder if 1,096 with cachexia and 2,253 with cancer suffer any severe pain along with that?  Do 900 with glaucoma, 776 with HIV/AIDS, and 1,425 with seizures ever suffer severe pain?

Here’s another way to write that stat, Oregonian:  over 30 thousand Oregon medical marijuana patients out of 57 thousand are registered for something other than severe pain (people can cite more than one condition).  Some condition that is quite easy to prove.  Thirty thousand patients that you seem to be implying are legitimate medical marijuana patients, not the “abusers”.  Gee, it was just four years ago when I was debunking The Oregonian’s “abuse” nonsense when there were only 20,000 medical marijuana patients!

If you think about it as a way of taxing recreational pot use, not only do the fee hikes make sense (the state taxes cigarettes, right?) and match the goals of the state’s legalization brigade, but they’re also a real bargain. A medical marijuana card, at $200 per year, costs less than 55 cents per day. To use the standard tax-hike analogy, that’s less than a cup of coffee.

So which way do you want to have it, Oregonian?  If you’re accepting the medical marijuana program as a way of taxing recreational pot smokers, why not endorse legalization and bring the production and sales aspects above ground, too?  After all, the $100-to-$200 fee raise doesn’t hurt the recreational guy who’s already spending money on weed.  It doesn’t hurt the grower who makes bank on selling weed; he’ll gladly cover the raised fee costs for his patients.  The only ones the fee raise hurts are the truly sick people who need marijuana as medicine and you’re fine with them suffering because you can’t come out and just endorse the legalization you seem to accept only as a medical wink-and-a-nod?  And with the extra $100 to change registrations, you dissuade them from getting away from a grower who is taking advantage of them.

It is almost as if you want to see the program taken over by nobody but the profiteers who can afford to take advantage of it.

The Oregonian’s Reefer Madness Continues – By Anthony Johnson

Oregon has a reputation as a progressive state with a liberal population, particularly on cannabis issues.  That is certainly the view that I had of the state when I moved to Portland from Columbia, Missouri, right out of law school (Go Mizzou!) in 2004.  However, Oregon transplants quickly realize that, outside of Portland and a few college towns, the suburbs and rural areas of Portland aren’t that much different than Missouri and other states that are thought to be much more conservative than Oregon.

Many progressives flocking to Portland are probably also shocked by the political stances of the city’s daily newspaper,The Oregonian (often just referred to as The O.)  I imagine that many folks, myself certainly included, expected that Portland’s daily would be a lot like The Seattle Times.  The Seattle Times recently endorsed marijuana legalization in Washington State.  The OregonianNot even close.

The O received a considerable amount of backlash from its Portland readership when its editorial board endorsed George W. Bush for President over Al Gore in 2000.  The daily editorialized that, “on a range of topics, and in a variety of ways, we think Bush has shown he has the intellect, character, fortitude and talent to be a better president.”  Perhaps hoping to avoid a similar backlash in 2012, The Oregonian is making the peculiar decision to sit out this year’s presidential race, refusing to make an endorsement.  I imagine that the editorial board wants to endorse Mitt Romney, but is too afraid to stand up for their position.

Cannabis policy is one area over which The O’s Editorial Board is not afraid of ruffling its Portland base of readers.  For years, The Oregonian Editorial Board has been bashing the state’s medical marijuana law and attempts to reform the state’s marijuana laws, either medical or for all adults.  The editorial board spouts assumptions without any facts, and even worse, has often lacked any compassion for patients, even those not renewing their medical marijuana cards due to a recent fee increase.

The Oregonian apparently does’t like the fact that nearly 57,000 Oregonians are registered as patients with the Oregon Medical Marijuana Program (OMMP).  Without any proof, the editorial board makes statements such as, “Dwarfed by the hordes of recreational card-holders are a comparatively small number of truly sick and suffering people, for whose benefit the program was sold to voters a decade and a half ago.”  The Oregonian hasn’t done any reporting showing that a large number of people are faking ailments to register as patients.  Fellow activist Russ Belville has a blog on The O’s latest attack on the OMMP that is certainly worth reading as he once again debunks the paper’s claim of OMMP abuse, noting that there are over 30,000 patients registering with the program with conditions other than severe pain, including over 15,000 with multiple sclerosis.

The editors state that severe pain, a qualifying condition along with cancer, HIV/AIDS, glaucoma, and other debilitating conditions, is “perhaps the most difficult to disprove.”  However, just because it is “difficult to disprove” that someone is in severe pain, it doesn’t mean that people are faking it.  There is an assumption that doctors will put their medical licenses on the line to sign up anyone who complains of back pain, but this is simply not the case.

I have worked at a few medical cannabis clinics and know first-hand that doctors require actual documentation of conditions and often require follow-up care and that the patient try other drugs first.  In fact, surveys are showing that nearly half of American adults suffer from chronic pain.  The fact that over 50,000 Oregonians are suffering from severe pain and would like to utilize cannabis to help them limit their use of OxyContin and Vicodin seems scandalous to the editorial board, but shouldn’t be shocking to most people.  It certainly isn’t an epidemic plaguing the state.

In 2010, several Oregon cannabis activists and myself met with The Oregonian Editorial Board to discuss their coverage of the OMMP.  Up until that time, the editorial board would refer to the medical program only with quotes, as in “medical marijuana” and “medicine.” After getting the editorial board to concede that there are legitimate medical marijuana patients, for them it tends to be limited to cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy and patients suffering from HIV or AIDS, I apparently helped convinced them that using quotes  was an insult to those legitimate patients.  At least they have grown since then and have quit using the quotes when editorializing about medical marijuana.

The Oregonian’se editorial page editor at the time of our meeting was the late Bob Caldwell, a giant figure in Oregon media circles.  Mr. Caldwell had been arrested and convicted of driving under the influence in front of a Portland strip club previous to this meeting and has since passed away, his death revealing an extramarital sexual encounter with a 23-year-old escort.  The O never reported on Mr. Caldwell’s DUI case and an editorinitially covered up his sex scandal.  When the paper finally came clean (almost) on their mishandling of their editor’s sex scandal, they insulted those who criticized them for the cover up as “trolls.”

The Oregonian was also reluctant to cover the sex scandals of three powerful Oregon politicians.  The paper didn’t initially report on the sexual harassment allegations levied against Senator Bob Packwood even though he harrassed one of their own reporters.  Nor did the paper initially report the rape of a minor by former Governor Neil Goldschmidt and when the paper finally ran with the story, they printed that the encounter with the minor was an “affair” even though sex with a minor under 16 is considered rape under Oregon law.  The Owas also scooped when allegations arose that Portland Mayor Sam Adams was having sex with a barely-legal intern.  Newsweek has an excellent piece detainling how other publications scooped The Oregonian on these allegations as The O seemed unwilling to tackle Oregon power brokers.

It is telling to me that The Oregonian is willing to insult Oregon medical marijuana patients and call most of them fakers without any facts, including those on fixed incomes, without any sympathy for these patients battling poverty and debilitating medical conditions, but willing to bend over backwards for powerful politicians.   They are willing to take a stand over and over again, bashing medical marijuana, but aren’t willing to give an opinion on the election of the leader of the free world in 2012?  While many of their reporters are going great work, including the piece by Noelle Crombie describing the financial difficulties many Oregon medical marijuana patients are suffering, The Oregonian Editorial Board, has demonstrated that they have lost all credibility and that Portland residents deserve a better editorial board for their daily newspaper.


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