PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — As the number of Oregonians who smoke marijuana legally for medical purposes passed one in 100, voters will decide Nov. 2 whether those patients should be able to buy it from nonprofit retailers.
Oregon is among 14 states that allow residents to use marijuana for medical purposes. Most in Oregon say it is for pain.
The number of people holding state permits has risen steadily since 1998 when Oregon followed California in allowing the use of medical marijuana. It has risen faster since the Obama administration softened the federal government's line on medical marijuana about a year ago.
Oregon estimates put the number of legal users at 42,000 to 43,000 in a state of about 3.8 million.
The current law requires doctor approval and a state card. Patients can grow their own or designate someone to grow it for them, but they can't pay for it.
Measure 74 would set up a system of state-licensed growers and retail outlets, called dispensaries, that would allow patients to buy marijuana. The producers and sellers would pay state fees of 10 percent of their income.
Half the states that allow medical marijuana have dispensary laws. The National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws says about 2,400 dispensaries are in the United States, most in California, Colorado and Montana.
In four other states, dispensaries are in initial stages of development or regulatory approval, says organization spokesman Allen St. Pierre.
Proponents of the initiated measure in Oregon say it would create a regulated system that's more convenient for patients, only half of whom have reliable supplies.
"The other half go without or go to the black market, and neither is desirable," said John Sajo, a longtime activist on marijuana issues in Oregon.
Over time, Sajo said, most patients would turn to the retail outlets, just as most people buy vegetables rather than grow them. He said the dispensary system could lead to better oversight by state officials and improvements, such as medical marijuana products that can be ingested without smoking.
Although profits aren't built into the system, he said, people would have an incentive to grow and provide marijuana at cost working for nonprofit organizations.
"People can make a living wage," he said. "They just can't become fabulously wealthy."
The strongest opponents of the measure are law enforcement officers and district attorneys. They say that it is a step toward legalization of marijuana, that law enforcement agencies wouldn't have a hand in overseeing the dispensaries, and that the measure has flaws that might lead to putting dispensaries near schools and neighborhoods.
"Measure 74 is a confusing and poorly worded measure that will make the illegal distribution and use of marijuana difficult to enforce," said a statement from a coalition of law enforcement officials intended for publication in the state voter guide. Calls to leaders of the organizations were not immediately returned Tuesday.
Compared to many Oregon initiative campaigns, the medical marijuana issue is a low-spending affair that is nearly invisible amid the blizzard of candidate advertising on the airwaves less than two weeks before ballots are mailed to voters.
The most recent filings with the secretary of state's office show three political action committees working on Measure 74: Two in support that have raised a total of about $20,000 and one against — the Parents Education Association — that has raised about $14,000 it says will be used "to articulate a biblical perspective" on seven ballot measures.