The Russ Belville Show

Write for the Oregonian Editorial Board? Look, I have my image and integrity to think about. There are some things even I won’t do.

The most recent editorial from the Oregonian, Medical marijuana fees are not too high, is such a frightening collision of vacuity and mercilessness that Kim Kardashian should read it aloud while wearing a Marie Antoinette costume for Halloween.

The issue at hand is a piece by their own Noelle Crombie, Higher medical marijuana fees support “slush fund,” hurt patients, Oregon advocates say.  In that piece, medical marijuana advocates cry foul over the recent administrative rise in program fees for a program that is cutting what few services it offers while running annual surpluses.  The legislature increased the annual fee from $100 to $200, instituted a new $100 lost/changed registration fee, instituted a new $50 fee to register a third-party grower, and raised the fee for low-income patients from $20 to $100 while tightening the qualification standards to qualify for that reduced fee.

According to the report, the state took in $8.8 million in medical marijuana “protection money” most of which it distributed to Clean Drinking Water ($3m), emergency medical services ($1.75m), family planning ($1.1m), and school health centers ($500,000).  Advocates point out that these are fine programs, but why balance state budgets on the backs of sick and disabled people, many of whom are on fixed incomes?  If you want to make money for the state taxing marijuana, why not legalize it for all and tax the healthy people?

That’s where the Oregonian comes in.  Their view is that these fee increases do exactly that.

Should Oregonians feel bad about this? A little, maybe. Should lawmakers reduce fees to previous levels as soon as possible? No. In fact, you could argue that what has happened to the medical marijuana program is exactly what those who’d like to loosen the state’s marijuana laws even further claim to want: The state’s using pot to generate revenue.

So the glaucoma patient living on $700 a month disability, who already has to come up with $175 to get the clinic recommendation, now has to go from a $20 annual fee to a $150 annual fee?  And we should only feel a little bit of remorse over this?

In any case, truly sick people shouldn’t blame lawmakers for the fee hikes. They should blame the people who designed such an easily abused program and, of course, the thousands of people who’ve abused it.

This “abuse” we’re talking about, of course, is The Oregonian’s shibboleth of “hordes of recreational card-holders”.  Abuse that involves a person:

  1. collecting their medical records from three prior visits to a physician within the past three years (estimated cost of three doctor appointments and collecting records = $600);
  2. presenting those records to another doctor at a medical marijuana clinic (estimated cost = $175);
  3. filling out forms with the state government indicating who he is, where he lives, where he’ll grow marijuana, and agreeing to abide by program limits; and,
  4. paying the state now $250 for absolutely no service aside from protection from arrest and being logged in a database accessible by law enforcement.

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That’s the “abuse”.  For an outlay of over a thousand dollars, a person who might have been smoking and growing pot secretly is now doing so under state registration.  Before he was most likely getting away with it, returning nothing to the state, or he was getting caught and costing the state police, judicial, and prison resources.  Now he’s pumping money into the economy, creating jobs for doctors and medical techs, and generating $8.8 million to help the state with clean drinking water.

How does The Oregonian prove this “abuse”?  Do they list any of the “hordes” whose cards have been rejected by the state?  Do they cite fraudulent applications?  Do they provide percentages of cardholders who are found out of compliance with the program’s limits?  Nope.  The “abuse” is self-evident, The Oregonian claims, because there are just so many patients.

As of Oct. 1, there were nearly 57,000 card-holders in the state’s medical marijuana program, of whom fewer than 4,000 combined suffer from cancer, HIV/AIDS or glaucoma: three of the conditions most commonly cited by Measure 67′s supporters. The most frequently cited qualifying medical condition — and perhaps the most difficult to disprove — is severe pain, claimed by 55,400 of those roughly 57,000 card-holders (people can cite more than one condition).

The Oregonian always likes to cite the 1998 Voter’s Pamphlet as if the pro-medical marijuana arguments were fooling Oregonians and there were only supposed to be 500 cardholders.  Obviously they’ve dropped that line now that they are citing 4,000 patients with cancer, HIV/AIDS, and glaucoma.  They never seem to cite Stormy Ray’s pro argument from that pamphlet where this multiple sclerosis patient says “There are thousands of patients like me– people suffering from cancer, AIDS, glaucoma, epilepsy, and a host of other diseases or illnesses that threaten their lives.”  Or the New England Journal of Medicine’s “Thousands of patients with cancer, AIDS, and other diseases report they have obtained striking relief from these devastating symptoms by smoking marijuana.”

It’s nice to see The Oregonian’s caveat that “people can cite more than one condition” after pointing out 55 of the 57 thousand cardholders claim “difficult to disprove” severe pain.  I could say “The Oregonian is guilty of libel, slander, fraud, child porn, kidnapping, terrorism, treason, and being a poorly-written fish-wrapper (only one of these charges is true)” and I’d have the same sort of journalistic integrity.

The fact is that there are 15,211 OMMP cardholders with Multiple Sclerosis.  You wanna bet that causes some severe pain?  How about the 8,355 using cannabis for nausea; how many of them have Crohn’s disease or IBS or something else that causes a lot of severe pain along with that nausea?  I wonder if 1,096 with cachexia and 2,253 with cancer suffer any severe pain along with that?  Do 900 with glaucoma, 776 with HIV/AIDS, and 1,425 with seizures ever suffer severe pain?

Here’s another way to write that stat, Oregonian:  over 30 thousand Oregon medical marijuana patients out of 57 thousand are registered for something other than severe pain (people can cite more than one condition).  Some condition that is quite easy to prove.  Thirty thousand patients that you seem to be implying are legitimate medical marijuana patients, not the “abusers”.  Gee, it was just four years ago when I was debunking The Oregonian’s “abuse” nonsense when there were only 20,000 medical marijuana patients!

If you think about it as a way of taxing recreational pot use, not only do the fee hikes make sense (the state taxes cigarettes, right?) and match the goals of the state’s legalization brigade, but they’re also a real bargain. A medical marijuana card, at $200 per year, costs less than 55 cents per day. To use the standard tax-hike analogy, that’s less than a cup of coffee.

So which way do you want to have it, Oregonian?  If you’re accepting the medical marijuana program as a way of taxing recreational pot smokers, why not endorse legalization and bring the production and sales aspects above ground, too?  After all, the $100-to-$200 fee raise doesn’t hurt the recreational guy who’s already spending money on weed.  It doesn’t hurt the grower who makes bank on selling weed; he’ll gladly cover the raised fee costs for his patients.  The only ones the fee raise hurts are the truly sick people who need marijuana as medicine and you’re fine with them suffering because you can’t come out and just endorse the legalization you seem to accept only as a medical wink-and-a-nod?  And with the extra $100 to change registrations, you dissuade them from getting away from a grower who is taking advantage of them.

It is almost as if you want to see the program taken over by nobody but the profiteers who can afford to take advantage of it.

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  • johnnygreen

    You never cease to amaze me with your writing Russ. Amazing article!

  • cannadude

    Russ said it all.Thank you! BTW, The ‘share with twitter’ link is not working.