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Here’s another unintended consequence of the growth in Oregon’s Medical Marijuana Program:

Drug detectives for law enforcement agencies throughout the state increasingly haven’t had to spend much time staking out the remote forest locations where marijuana scofflaws have planted their illegal grow operations.

That includes Linn County: A detective for the sheriff’s office says that nowadays, some 95 percent of marijuana grows that attract law enforcement attention are likely to be in backyards or inside residences, as Democrat-Herald reporter Kyle Odegard reported in a Sunday story.

It’s a statewide trend, as growers taking illegal advantage of those medical marijuana laws have brought their operations much closer to home.

And it’s also a sign of the far-reaching reforms that are required in our drug laws, not just in the state — where the Oregon Medical Marijuana Program has turned out to be a boon for black market sales of pot — but also among federal officials, who fail to recognize marijuana’s legitimate medical value.

As a result, our drug policies have become a contradictory mess.

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This is why we’ve argued in the past for the legalization of marijuana and have endorsed Ballot Measure 80, which would do so — even though, to be sure, the measure is not perfect. But the ban on pot has done much harm and we’re no better than when it was still legal, some 80 years ago.

If the measure fails at the ballot, however, the 2013 Legislature will have to find ways to curb what appears to be a wave of abuse in the state’s medical marijuana program.

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The number of cardholders has boomed from fewer than 20,000 in July 2008 to more than 54,000 in July 2012. The trend is similar in Linn County, where cardholders have grown from 500 in July 2008 to more than 1,400 in July 2012.

It’s possible that every one of those cardholders is legitimately using the drug to treat issues such as chronic pain. But it seems far more likely that abuse of the program is one of the reasons fueling the program’s explosive growth.

If voters reject Measure 80, the Legislature will have to tackle that abuse, but also will have to ensure that patients who legitimately need the drug can safely access it. (mm)

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