By Nick Schwarz
Springfield, Ore. – The changing landscape of marijuana in our country was a hot topic last election. Two states legalized marijuana, Washington and Colorado, for distribution and are in the process of setting up the infrastructure to sell it. Oregon voted against Marijuana legalization but each year more laws pass that make the drug increasingly accessible.
Springfield lies just outside of Eugene and is just one of the many cities in Oregon with current marijuana infrastructure that would be altered by legalization.
Anna Johnson is the proprietor of Southern Oregon Alternative Medicine, a business that helps patients in search of marijuana as medicine find providers. The company also does evaluations to see if a patient qualifies for a medical marijuana card.
“Marijuana is a natural product,” she said. “How can it get any better for a patient?” Johnson sees the natural properties of the drug attracting people to seek it out as an alternative treatment for their illnesses. She sees marijuana as a way to avoid using synthesized medications that are produced in labs.
“We have more elderly patients than any other.” She described how many people have been taught from such a young age that Marijuana is a “bad” drug. “After several years of frustration due to pills making them sick, not working, adding other problems (kidney issues, etc.) or living in a ‘constant fog’, they finally decide to try cannabis.”
Patients’ reactions are almost always positive. Johnson says after feeling like they are trapped in a cycle of pill taking the opportunity to try a different route makes them very happy.
With such a thriving business, Southern Oregon Alternative Medicine has locations in 14 cities, what would the legalization of the drug to her business?
“I like the way the laws are now because the patient still has a lot of freedom with their medicine and growing,” she said. She anticipates that if the laws do change there will be no room for a medical marijuana provider, meaning her business will have to adapt.
“We have been considering opening a marijuana friendly rehab center,” she said. “There are none in this area & we see so many people horribly affected by pills & other drugs that we really want to help people get better.”
Vance Morrison is a 22 year old construction worker who recently got his medical marijuana caregiver card. The card gives him access to marijuana based goods as well as allows him to manufacture his own. His girlfriend suffers from migraines and also recently got her own medical marijuana card.
“It was really easy to get,” said Morrison. “I didn’t even have to go in; she (his girlfriend) just named me as her caregiver and showed them my driver’s license.” Morrison then received his card less than a week later, allowing him to grow and sell his plants to marijuana dispensaries.
“Really I just wanted the chance to grow and make some money from dispensaries,” Morrison continued. “It is such an easy process to get the card that I’m sure most people with them don’t have legit medical reasons.”
“If you want to be able to get a card you can just make up a reason,” he said. “In my eyes it is basically legal.”
Judge Strickland works for the Springfield Municipal court and sees to two categories of charges. There are traffic violations that range from infractions such as speeding, cellphone use and violations of traffic control instruments. The others are criminal charges with the majority being related to DUIs and theft.
“We maybe see two to three marijuana possession cases a day,” say Strickland. “They don’t really take up too much of our time.”
Usually defendants that come in for marijuana have been cited for something else initially. When they are pulled over for example the officer may also discover they also are in possession of marijuana and the charge is added to their ticket. Rarely does Strickland see people coming in solely for marijuana possession.
Marijuana is not seen as a big offender, and punishments are more lax now than they have been in the past. “When I was younger one joint could get you 10 years in prison, and they sent a lot of people to prison for that, said Strickland. “In the 70’s it became an infraction and the punishments have been much lighter after that.”
“If legalization continues to happen it will be on the coasts,” said Strickland. “I don’t see the deep south legalizing it though, or the Midwest.” With two states so close to Oregon legalizing he doesn’t think it is farfetched that this state will follow in their footsteps.
Quality Research Associates is a drug and alcohol treatment center that evaluates people recently convicted for crimes relating to illicit substances. Strickland sends people that have been found guilty of violations stemming from substance abuse to meet with Miki Mace, the executive director of QRA.
When asked how marijuana laws would impact her business she said very little. “We don’t see that many less than an ounce folks and the Eugene and Springfield police site only a few a week,” Mace said. “A lot of times the court sends them to a class instead which puts it on their record as dismissed.”
QRA doesn’t even make money for evaluating marijuana cases. “The evaluations for alcohol and other drugs are 150$ while the evaluations for marijuana have been $90 for the past 20 years,” she says. “We actually lose money because we invest more time in our patients than that.
In terms of deadliness she sees marijuana and alcohol as complete opposites. “Typically when you are smoking (marijuana) you are sitting on the couch watching TV and eating pizza,” she said.
There are over 17,000 people killed by drunk drivers every year and 1,700 of those are college students on campuses. “How many deaths are caused by marijuana?” she asked. “Very very few, I would be much more concerned about any other drug besides caffeine.
However Mace doesn’t think that just because marijuana is less dangerous than alcohol it should be legalized. “I’m mixed about any drug that is mood altering being legal with the accolade ‘while driving’,” she said. “As soon as it impairs someone else’s safety I have a problem with it.” She goes on to acknowledge that all drugs have dangers to them but that marijuana is also known for helping people who are suffering from debilitating disease.
Right now she feels that Oregon medical marijuana being taken advantage of by people trying to get easy access to the drug as well as avoid charges for possession. “I believe 90% of people with green cards are taking advantage of the system,” she said. She sees 22 year olds come into her office with Oregon Medical Marijuana Program cards regularly and will ask them the nature of their illness. Responses range from bad backs to carpel tunnel. “I’ll ask them later what their weekend plans are and they will say snowboarding,” she said raising her eyebrows. “What about that bad back of yours?”
Right now marijuana is most widely used in its smoke-able form. Mace thinks that more regulation of the strength of the drug is necessary going forward. “Not every plant is the same, so you don’t know what you are getting,” she said. By taking the active ingredients and putting them into an edible form she believes the wide ranging effects could be controlled.
“I believe the majority of judges would probably prefer if they didn’t have to charge people with possession anymore,” she said. “Marijuana is so low on the spectrum of the courts already that dropping it entirely wouldn’t cause much alarm.”
Oregon had 56,939 people registered as medical marijuana patients during 2012. Many factors need to go in to deciding if a drug should be legal or not. There is talk already of the marijuana legalization bill being reworked for the next election and there is a distinct possibility that this time it will pass. Overall the future is uncertain and it will only become clear how legalization will affect the state if the law passes and these businesses begin to navigate the new laws.
According to the Oregon Medical Marijuana Program, there are currently 56,939 registered patients.
Number of OMMP caregivers: 27,417
Number of Oregon-licensed physicians with current OMMP patients: 1,467
Number of applicants denied from Jan 1st 2012 through Dec 31, 2012: 1,463
Most common cause for qualifying for medical marijuana is “severe pain”.
Oregon is one of 10 states that has both decriminalized possession of marijuana and provides it as a medical alternative.
Two states, Washington and Colorado, have legalized the recreational use of marijuana.
Marijuana is the second most widely used drug in the world, the first being alcohol.
Over 94 million people in the US have admitted to using it at least once.
The highest rate of marijuana use is seen in 12-17 year olds with most starting use between the ages of 16 and 18.
85.5% of twelfth graders noted that marijuana was “fairly easy” or “very easy” to get.
In 2011, 757,969 people were arrested for marijuana violations.
Oregon charges marijuana cases as follows:
Possession of less than an ounce= no jail time and a $1,000 fine
Possession of more than an ounce= up to 10 years and $375,000 fine
Intent to sell levies harsher penalties but the disparity between possession of less than an ounce and over an ounce is shocking.
Legalizing marijuana could save the U.S. government up to $8.7 billion as well as open many new jobs in manufacturing and distributing the drug.
Statistics Courtesy of:
Southern Oregon Alternative Medicine is located near the exit from downtown Springfield. They specialize in finding providers for patients as well as assessing if someone qualifies for a medical marijuana card.
The Springfield Municipal Court sees only a few people charged per day for marijuana offenses. Many of these charges can be removed from a persons record if they complete a class.
Judge Strickland presides over the court room. He says most charges stem from theft and DUIs. Marijuana charges are very few.
The U.S. charged 757,969 people for marijuana crimes. Over 94 million Americans have admitted to using the drug once in their life.
Quality Research Associates works closely with the Springfield municipal court, setting up programs for people charged with substance abuse. Marijuana charges only make up a small portion of what they do.
Oregon has one of the highest usage rates in the U.S. Photo courtesy of NORML