The Oregonian: Medical Marijuana is Big Business
Voters in Oregon have twice (2004, 2010) struck down attempts to create dispensaries – a legal, regulated, tax-paying industry to supply medical marijuana to sick and disabled patients. So the law of supply and demand, being the unimpeachable reality that it is, has led to “patient clubs” and “farmers markets” and “cooperatives”, all euphemisms for “money walks in, marijuana walks out”, or what most of us would call “dispensaries”.
See, Oregon’s medical marijuana law allows patients and caregivers to freely exchange medicine and plants. So, in one novel interpretation of the law, caregivers are merely “donating” their medicine and plants to a patient. Then, in a completely separate and uncoordinated transaction, the patient, out of the goodness of his or her heart, merely “donates” some cash to the caregiver, which randomly happens to always be $10/gram or $200/ounce. It’s kind of like now under Citizens United, Super PACs can run attack ads for a candidate, but they are completely separate and uncoordinated activities (*wink*).
In another creative reading of the statutes, some places charge a “membership fee” or an “entry fee” to enter a club designed for patients to medicate within. It’s explained that shut-in patients need a place to recreate where they can medicate. Never mind that anyone with a card can come in: patients, caregivers, and growers, and nobody bothers to determine which of those cards are held by the people smoking the bongs and hitting the vaporizers. Inside, one can visit the various growers who pay a “vendor fee” to rent a cubicle there within the club.
The growers in the club, as well as growers throughout the state, make use of another flexible part of the Oregon Medical Marijuana Law that states a patient can reimburse a caregiver/grower for the expenses incurred in growing marijuana, but not for labor. The key words there are “a patient” and “a grower”, which is notably not “the patient” and “the grower”. The latter (“the”) would mean the patient could only reimburse the person they had specifically designated to be their grower when they filled out their Oregon Medical Marijuana Program paperwork. The former (“a”) means any patient can reimburse any grower. So the electricity, soil, lights, ballasts, water, nutrients, etc. incurred during this harvest are all tallied up by the grower, then that figure is divided by the total yield, and the patient reimburses the grower that amount based on how much weight of medicine is dispensed… or, at least, that’s how you’d think the law’s dictates would force you to figure reimbursement.
Yet whether you grow two plants hydroponically under a single 600W lamp in Portland, or you grow 24 plants under massive indoor soil grows with thousands of watts of lights in Eugene, or you grow 96 plants outdoors in the ideal weather of Medford, somehow everybody’s expense reimbursements with no labor costs always tally up to $10 / gram and $200 / ounce. And nobody bothers to check any grower’s power or water bills or garden supply receipts. Weird, huh? Where in the world do people like Dwight Holton get off calling this program a “train wreck”? How in the world do opponents of medical marijuana come up with this meme of “abuse”?
So the dispensaries voters shot down twice are here, as we all knew they would be eventually, because you cannot have 60,000 legal consumers and 0 legal retail suppliers. The voters mistakenly thought it was a vote between “dispensaries” or “no dispensaries”; in reality it was a vote between “regulated taxpaying dispensaries” and “unregulated gray-market dispensaries” and we chose the latter. It would be nice if the “Mother Teresa” model worked and every patient could be matched with an altruistic caregiver and grower, but it just ain’t so. So people who have always made money growing and selling marijuana continue to do so and the state continues to miss out on huge economic opportunities. A state, by the way, with no sales tax and brutal property taxes to make up for it, where revenues are short, and there is one growing (pardon the pun) industry begging to be legal and taxed.