Supporters of an initiative to create a system of medical marijuana dispensaries in Oregon have submitted petitions with more than 110,000 signatures in hopes of getting on the ballot this fall.
The Coalition for Patients' Rights was able to gather the signatures before an early submission deadline, requiring the state Elections Division to immediately determine whether there are enough valid signatures to meet the minimum of about 83,000 needed to qualify.
They say the dispensaries are needed to help sick people have consistent legal access to the drug. Patients may not be able to grow their own supply – which puts them in the position of finding someone who can do that for them, and being dependent on that person. A dispensaries system would solve these problems, the initiative's backers say.
The initiative would also create a system of regulated medical marijuana producers.
Voters defeated a measure to create dispensaries in 2004 but supporters say they believe opposition has declined.
They say the proposed initiative would also improve the existing Oregon Medical Marijuana Act, approved in 1998 to establish quality control for patients now required to grow their own marijuana or designate a caregiver.
"When we drafted the original Oregon Medical Marijuana Act, we didn't include provisions for dispensaries because federal law prohibited that," said John Sajo, executive director of the Voter Power Foundation, which organized the petition drive.
"Now that the Obama administration has indicated that they will allow states to regulate medical marijuana, Oregon needs to create a regulated system so every patient can access quality controlled medicine," Sajo said.
One of the leading opponents of the initiative, former state lawmaker Kevin Mannix, said the number of signatures likely would ensure it qualifies for the ballot but that law enforcement officials will review it carefully.
"My gut check is they're breaking faith with the voters," Mannix said. "I'm not saying they have broken faith. But we'll go back to promises that were made when medical marijuana was on the ballot in 1998."
Supporters say the initiative will not change the medical conditions needed to qualify as a patient under the 1998 act.
But it will allow the Oregon Department of Human Services to conduct research into the safety and effectiveness of medical marijuana.
According to state figures, the Oregon Medical Marijuana Program has about 33,000 registered patients.