By Steve Elliott of Toke of the Town
Legislators got an earful Wednesday from medical marijuana advocates who opposed a proposal to greatly restrict who can legally use cannabis to combat illnesses.
It's the second time the issue has come up recently, with some lawmakers claiming too many people are scamming the law that allows the use of marijuana to treat some diseases and symptoms, reports Harry Esteve at The Oregonian.
"I personally think the program is out of control," sniffed the self-righteous windbag Sen. Jeff Kruse (R-Roseburg), sponsor of one of the bills targeting the growth of medicinal cannabis use. "I know people who just find it a legal way to smoke pot," he claimed.
Patient advocates called Kruse's proposal "heartless" and said it would subject cancer patients and other sick people who rely on medical marijuana to arrest and imprisonment.
To take away an effective medical treatment like marijuana "is simply a cruel task, a cruel thing to do that will only harm someone battling cancer," said Anthony Johnson, spokesman for a coalition of patient advocacy groups.
Sen. Kruse's proposal, contained in Senate Bill 777, removes several illnesses from the list of those for which marijuana can be legally used, including cancer, severe pain, severe nausea and seizures. It replaces these general illnesses with more specific conditions, such as nausea resulting from chemotherapy treatment for cancer, and spasticity caused by multiple sclerosis.
Kruse claimed he came up with the hit list after asking a number of doctors what kinds of conditions marijuana is effective against. He claimed that he hears from law enforcement, especially in southern Oregon, that "marijuana use is rampant" (oh, horrors!), partly because of its legality for medicinal use.
But after listening to nearly an hour of heated testimony against the bill, Kruse said he's "willing to be flexible" and make some changes. He also admitted that his bill may not go far in the Democratically controlled Oregon Senate.
However, Kruse said he does expect "some changes to the law" to come out of the Legislature this year. A work group has been formed to supposedly look at ways to "prevent abuses" of the 1998 voter-approved measure that legalized cannabis for medicinal reasons in the state.
Conservative legislators, who have never liked the medical marijuana law and have always been just waiting like a flock of vultures for any chance to pick away at it, were emboldened after a measure that would have legalized medical marijuana dispensaries was defeated by Oregon voters last November.
But "Wednesday's discussion went heavily and vehemently against the changes outlined in the bill," according to The Oregonian.
"It will create criminals out of currently law abiding citizens," said Sarah Duff of Portland, who works for a patient advocacy group. Duff listed a number of cases -- including her mother's cancer -- that would no longer qualify for marijuana treatment under the bill.
About 40,000 Oregonians have medical marijuana cards. Kruse and other hidebound conservatives in the Legislature have appointed themselves medical experts and arbitrarily decided that number is "too high."
Medical marijuana advocates, on the other hand, say the number of patients should be expanded as more studies highlight the beneficial uses for cannabis.
"It's completely heartless to exclude cancer from the list," said Leland Berger, a Portland lawyer who represents medical marijuana patients and providers. "Either you think marijuana is a medicine or you don't."
Last month, a House bill to put more limits on the medical marijuana law met with similar opposition, and the bill was tabled.
A group called the Oregon Marijuana Policy Initiative has organized to fight any other proposals if they come up in the Legislature, according to spokesman Robert Wolfe of Eugene.
"We're going to show up in force at every meetieng," Wolfe said.