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Medford police chief is wary of black market pot

Proposed state rules would encourage criminality, he says
 Posted: 2:00 AM May 30, 2014

Proposed state rules on medical marijuana dispensaries open the door for black market sales because they don't adequately regulate overproduction and don't address how to transport the product, Medford Police Chief Tim George told the Oregon Health Authority Thursday.

OHA hearings officers were in Medford to gather comments on a bill passed last year that made dispensaries legal.

George faulted the rules for not defining or controlling "overage" — the amount of marijuana grown in excess of what is allowed for registered medical marijuana cardholders. In addition, he said, the rules don't regulate how the marijuana gets from fields to shops.

"You're creating a scenario where they can grow more than the patients need," George said. "In Southern Oregon, we are the marijuana capital of the state and overage is a big issue. ... How much can a dispensary hold and how much can they physically maintain there?"

The proposed rules are based on House Bill 3460, passed by the 2013 Legislature. The hearing did not address Senate Bill 1531 of this year's session, which dealt with edibles, packaging and local government moratoria on shops. The rules can be read at www.mailtribune.com/3460_rules.

The city of Medford opposes the rules, said Deputy City Attorney Lori Cooper, because they are trumped by federal laws making marijuana illegal and they violate the local government home-rule provisions in the Oregon Constitution. Cooper said the rules may allow transfer of marijuana from the grower to the shop, but under home rule, the state may not pass rules that block the city's right to ban transfer to the cardholder.

The city objects to self-testing allowed by the rules and the fact that testers are not required to be licensed or regulated, she said. Cooper also faulted rules that allow employees to smoke pot on-site and require criminal background checks for shop owners but not employees. She said the rules also do not regulate marketing, meaning dispensaries could potentially market their product to minors and in ways that encourage addiction.

Former Southern Oregon NORML director Lori Duckworth said you can't tell an apple tree to grow only five apples and marijuana plants are the same.

"It's ludicrous" to think there won't be overage, she said. "In such a poverty-stricken area, you'd think we'd want that revenue, yet there's still a ban, so patients have to use the black market."

Medford medical marijuana patient Tere Knight told the panel that users can't make their own cannabis oil, can't provide good security and can't safely use the black market, so "a ban here makes a big difference."

George, in an interview after the hearing, said he supports medical marijuana to treat the symptoms of cancer, chronic pain and other ills, but "we need to tighten Oregon's laws and make it legitimate. It's totally uncontrolled. No one is inspecting anything. These rules make it all default to the police. If the state wants me to inspect every dispensary, good luck. I'm asking the state to be reasonable."

In harvest season, supply drives prices down, George said, so the dispensary system, with no limits on aggregate total amounts, entices dispensaries to sell it for five times the local value in surrounding states with no medical marijuana laws.

"There's no limit on how much marijuana they can have, and that is ludicrous," he said. "You're setting up a system for criminal activity to thrive. It was never designed for overage. If you're overproductive, there is so much value in it, you're going to keep being overproductive. There's got to be an aggregate total limit. ... Who is going to control how much you can overgrow?"

The hearing allowed four minutes of testimony from each person. The state officers did not comment but said they will release their recommendations and hold hearings on SB 1531 later.

John Darling is a freelance writer living in Ashland. Email him at jdarling@jeffnet.org.


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