Montanans by a notable margin in 2004 passed a voter initiative to legalize medical marijuana. It was both a compassionate groundswell and a nod to the practical side of an emotional issue. But with six years of experience under our belts, some alarming flaws have become apparent and need to be dealt with. While the federal government still considers marijuana an illegal substance, the Obama administration has announced that it will back off of prosecuting cases involving patients using it legally within states that allow it. That places the consequences of our policy in our hands. That said, our public officials need to pay a lot more attention to how marijuana for medical purposes is grown and dispensed. There is growing evidence that this new business is more about profits than it is easing the pain of those with serious chronic illnesses such as cancer. People testify to heart-wrenching personal experiences of marijuana providing comfort and dignity while dealing with their ordeal. No one wants to believe that a person with a terminal illness will be denied any form of comfort because of someone else's lack of understanding. But oversight of the law seems to be virtually non-existant. Public perception is that anyone with any kind of pain, valid or not, can easily obtain a card and that growers, called caregivers under state law, are pushing for more people to register with the state. What began as a gesture of compassion has turned into big business. More patients equals more money for caregivers. Properly grown and harvested plants yield more product than the one ounce of usable marijuana patients are allowed by the law to have on their person at any given time. The concern is that a whole lot of surplus marijuana will find its way into the hands of community members who do not have user cards. The current law protects the anonymity of caregivers and patients alike. People aren't required to disclose to anyone when they take prescribed narcotics, such as oxycotin, and neither should people using medical marijuana. Grow operations and dispensaries, however, should not be anonymous, regardless of safety risks that are cited as a reason for the allowance. If law enforcement and public safety officials knew where operations were located, they could, in fact, better protect the growers as well as alleviate community concern that the operations might not be following the law. As it is now, law enforcement officers who need to verify that a caregiver or patient is registered with the state, must call a number, only in operation from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. That is not adequate. According to the state Department of Public Health and Human Services' Web site, the number of patients eligible for this program has skyrocketed. The state can't keep up with the barrage of requests for user cards and doesn't have time to properly process each one. More care needs to be given to each card's issuance. Additional regulation is needed to ensure that only people with truly valid reasons receive medical marijuana. Providing more services could be costly. If the state doesn't want to become entwined with the issue because of additional costs associated with additional scrutiny, it could levy a reasonable tax on the marijuana to close the gap. And if the state declines to meet its responsibility, local legislators need to listen to the concerns of their constituents and look at the issue unemotionally to determine what is the best way to move forward. When determining what path to take, they must make sure that patients who can benefit from medical marijuana do and that people who are bending the law for selfish reasons are stopped. We need to insist that the growers are publicly identified and if need be, publicly protected. But they cannot operate in the dark. Without proper oversight, the number of people taking advantage of the loopholes will grow beyond control, and larger and much more ominous issues than compassion and individual rights will have to be faced. We encourage you to contact your state representatives, urging them to close the loopholes, toughen the qualifications for a card and provide law enforcement with the information they need to effectively do their jobs.
More oversight is needed for medical marijuana
Published: Thursday, April 1st, 2010
Click Here To See More Stories Like This