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Oregon Legislature Doubles Fees for Sick Patients Using MarijuanaJennifer Alexander, Special to Salem-News.com
Increased fees for the sick and dying expected to raise about $7 million dollars for the state.
(PORTLAND, Ore.) - Fees for registering with the Oregon Medical Marijuana Program will double, from $100 per year to $200 per year, due to a Budget Bill that passed out of the Joint Ways and Means Committee and into the main chambers late Wednesday. The increase in fees was included in one of the over 30 bills that the Committee “barreled through” on Wednesday.
Sen. Doug Whitsett, R-Klamath Falls, objected to the lack of scrutiny over the bills, stating, “It's unacceptable to get this kind of information with no time to study it.”
Bob Wolfe, Director and Spokesperson for the Oregon Marijuana Policy Initiative (OMPI), agrees. He describes the increase in fees as a “de facto tax” and questioned those behind the increase. "Medical marijuana patients are ill, disabled, and often poor. This stealthy budget item is a de facto tax on vulnerable people. I’d like to know which scurrilous legislator or bureaucrat is responsible for this disgusting maneuver," he said.
OMPI is a coalition of twelve large patient organizations, including Oregon Green Free, Mama’s, The Human Collective, and Oregon NORML, as well as many other independent advocates of medical marijuana. OMPI represents thousands of patients in Oregon, and has been active working at the legislature to protect Oregon Medical Marijuana Patients protection under the Oregon Medical Marijuana Act.
OMPI had just confirmed the death of HB 3664, the lone remaining medical marijuana bill at the Oregon Legislature seeking to further restrict the OMMA, and believed that attacks on patients were concluded for this legislative session. HB3664 sought to restrict the medical marijuana program and increase police access to confidential patient information, and opponents to the bill turned out in troves for the hearing, effectively killing it for this Legislative Session.
While Oregon is slashing its many aspects of its budget, the Oregon Health Authority will receive an increase over current spending to its budget of nearly 11%, reports OregonLive. The increased fees for OMMP patients are expected to contribute about $7 million dollars over the biennium, and will go towards a program for drinking water and emergency medical services.
Lawmakers claim that this still falls short of the projected needs, but believe that the increase in fees for OMMP cardholders will help “fill the gaps.” Advocates aren’t so sure; they project anywhere from 25% - 40% of OMMP cardholders are low-income, and that the increase in fees will only further weaken their tenuous financial situation – in essence robbing from one hand to place it in the other.
There is also no confirmation yet if the low-income fees have also increased from the current rate of $20 per year. If patients cannot afford to register with the state, then they may find themselves on the wrong end of the long arm of the law when they cannot renew their card and are deemed felons instead of patients for growing and using medical marijuana.
OregonLive further reports: “Conspicuously absent Wednesday was the public safety budget, which includes money to run state prisons. Lawmakers are still struggling for ways to stem the escalating cost of incarceration.”
I would propose a solution to both the escalating incarceration costs and our troubled budget: how about we legalize marijuana for ALL adults, taxing the commercial sales for recreational use, and allow all adults to grow their own for personal use without registration or fee, AND legalize industrial hemp? This will create thousands of green jobs, reduce our spending on arresting, convicting and incarcerating nonviolent drug offenders and ensure that medical marijuana patients have access to the medicine that they need.
Further, through taxes on the regulated sales of marijuana, we could save over $61.5 million per year and raise an additional $140 million per year in revenue, with 90% given to the Oregon General Fund to supplement our education, healthcare and public safety budgets – the three main focuses and struggles of the current budget for Oregonians!
Oregonians are trying to do just that with the Oregon Cannabis Tax Act 2012, Currently, proponents are in the process of collecting the nearly 90,000 necessary signatures to qualify for the ballot. To find out more, go to www.cannabistaxact.org, where you can print and sign the petition, volunteer to help gather signatures, or make a donation.
Jennifer Alexander is a married mother of four boys, living in Beaverton, Oregon. She is a current Oregon Medical Marijuana Program (OMMP) cardholder, and an activist for marijuana law reform. Contact Jennifer at: firstname.lastname@example.org
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