Governor John Kitzhaber finally signed a bill legalizing medical cannabis dispensaries in Oregon on August 14. Oregon’s House and Senate had passed HB 3460, legalizing medical cannabis retail establishments, and it has been sitting on the governor’s desk since July 10th.
The law directs the Oregon Health Authority to create a registration system for establishments selling medical cannabis. They have until March 2014 to create a framework of rules to govern dispensaries’ operations.
This makes Oregon the 13th state to officially regulate dispensaries, although 20 states (and the District of Columbia) have legalized cannabis—also known as “marijuana”—for medicinal use. Where medical cannabis is legal, but dispensaries are not, patients who are too sick, or otherwise find it impractical to grow their own plants must seek their medicine on the black market, with all the danger and uncertainty that entails.
Oregon was once at the forefront of the legalization movement, the first state to decriminalize possession of small amounts in 1973. Possessing up to an ounce merely merited a fine, as it’s considered an infraction, not a crime. A law was passed in 1997, re-upping the penalty to a class C misdemeanor, but activists raised enough signatures to force a referendum, and the law was overturned by a significant margin. A year later, 55% of Oregon voters choose to legalize cannabis with a doctor’s recommendation.
In 2010, Oregon was again the vanguard, becoming the first state to reschedule cannabis as a Schedule 2 drug, signifying it has medicinal value. Nationally, it remains a Schedule 1 drug, meaning it’s considered by the Federal Government to have no medicinal value whatsoever. Hundreds of scientific studies, however, have shown its effectiveness for everything from preventing nausea for cancer and AIDS patients, to treating pain, slowing the progression of Alzheimer’s, easing anxiety and depression, treating MS, asthma, epilepsy, migraines, insomnia and fibromyalgia.
Recent studies have shown a link between cannabis use and decreased cancer rates, and researchers at Harvard University have demonstrated, both in lab and mouse studies, that THC (an active ingredient in cannabis), “cuts tumor growth in common lung cancer in half and significantly reduces the ability of the cancer to spread.”
While even aspirin kills hundreds of people every year, cannabis kills none. The effective lethal dose of cannabis is so large, it’s literally impossible to consume.
Governor Kitzhaber finally affixing his signature to this law conveniently coincides with the release of a new study, published in the Journal of Law and Economics, which suggests the passage of medical cannabis laws are associated with fewer alcohol-related traffic fatalities.
Researchers at Montana State University, the University of Oregon, and the University of Colorado analyzed alcohol consumption and traffic fatality rates from 1990 to 2010. “We find that MMLs (medical marijuana laws) are associated with decreases in the probability of [an individual] having consumed alcohol in the past month, binge drinking, and the number of drinks consumed… we find that traffic fatalities fall by 8-11 percent the first full year after legalization… the legalization of medical marijuana is associated with a 13.2 percent decrease in fatalities in which at least one driver involved had a positive BAC level.”
As long as cannabis remains a Schedule 1 drug nationally, federal drug enforcement agencies can continue to raid even state sanctioned dispensaries—arresting employees, and cutting patients off from their medicine.
By Seth Aronson