Medford, Ore. -- In just days, medical marijuana dispensaries will be legal in the state of Oregon. What exactly can people expect?
It's a rapid evolution in cannabis control. "As cannabis laws and momentum to regulated facilities, sometimes our culture is moving faster than our people are ready for," says Anthony Johnson. The Portland man served on the Rules and Regulations Advisory Committee for Oregon House Bill 34-60. The bill, now law, means that starting March 3rd medical marijuana dispensaries will be legal in the state of Oregon.
"We do know that we can expect 200 or so to apply for licenses," says Johnson. He acknowledges with that many dispensaries in Oregon residents may be on edge about how these facilities will effect local communities.
"We've seen marijuana facilities across the country and they don't cause more crime than medical facilities or banks. Studies show highway fatalities go down, fewer suicides," says Johnson.
However, Medford Police Chief Tim George considers those claims laughable, "How does marijuana sales increase safety of neighborhood?"
With 37 years of law enforcement experience under his belt, Chief George says more marijuana in the market will not increase safety in the community, "That is a commodity that has value and when it has value it will bring a level of criminal activity."
George says he believes teen usage and drugged driving accidents will rise. Columbia University researchers assessed National Highway Traffic Safety Association data from 1999 to 2010. They found non-alcohol, marijuana-related accidents tripled from four to twelve percent in recent years.
"The marijuana program in this state is joke," says George. "Now they are telling me the dispensary will make it better, because they'll be able to control it. They haven't been able to control the medical marijuana program. There's no way they'll be able to control dispensaries."
Johnson says regulations he helped write will protect all parties and the program is controlled, "Camera's on all points of entrances, law enforcement can look back 30 days."
One of the biggest rules for having a dispensary, means having constant surveillance. Twenty-four hours a day, three hundred sixty-five days a year. Which is exactly what Ashland business owner Mike Welch is doing as he prepares to open a dispensary.
"We have a camera set up, backed up on a hard drive, with cloud storage," Welch says as he shows us their cameras.
Welch tells us opening a medical marijuana shop where he works at Siskiyou Medical Supply, inside Puffs on Ashland street, means following a lot of rules. "Code enforcement with city. Making sure from state legislative point of view that everything is compliant. Need the right amount of safes, security, cameras, and proper testing procedures for marijuana," lists Welch. That kind of compliance takes cash. Welch paid a non- refundable 500 dollar application fee to the state. A 3,500 dollar annual registration fee. Siskiyou Medical Supply also had to be 1000 feet from any schools or other dispensaries.
As Welch shows us around, he explains, that it's not just law enforcement that's nervous about the speedy changes. He says even marijuana growers, his suppliers, are uncertain about the law, "This is people's livelihoods. We are asking people to come out of a darkness they've been in for 30 to 40 years. And all of a sudden we're saying, ' Don't worry. We're not going to put you jail.' As you can imagine, a lot of them are not believing this yet."
Federal law still classifies marijuana as a class one drug. Growers, distributors, and buyers can still be prosecuted federally. The reason some local cities, like Medford, are banning dispensaries is because of those federal laws. "We're not gonna give any business licenses to dispensaries in Medford," says Chief George.
Meanwhile, advocates say cities like Medford may change their minds, once they see the impact dispensaries have both in the community and in local tax revenue. "It could be exact same situation as breweries and wines in Oregon," Johnson remarks. "It could be a great industry for the state. Eventually provide millions in revenue for education and social services."
Cannabis, in the eyes of some, a possible cash crop for Southern Oregon, but still not without controversy.
For the second half of this feature visit: http://kobi5.com/news/item/part-2-setting-up-shop.html#.Uw9mt6Ir30g