Oregon NORML Honors Growers

For a long time C Notes naively assumed that a “cannabis cup” competition was simply an excuse to indulge. We wondered how anybody, after sampling one strain, could judge the effect of any strain sampled subsequently? Oregon NORML resolves this fool’s paradox by doing the judging over the course of several weeks (patients get one gram per day to evaluate) and announcing the results at an awards dinner preceded by a day of medical and legal panels. This year 25 growers entered the competition by donating strains and 28 patients served as judges. Strains were evaluated on a scale of 1 to 10 for “appearance,” “aroma,” “taste,” “smoothness (is it easy on your lungs?)”, “potency (how strong is the strain?),” and “medicinal effect (how well does it work for your individual condition?).” Medicinal effect was given double weight in the scoring. The awards dinner was held on the Saturday after Thanksgiving at the Ambridge Center in downtown Portland. First-prize winner David V. said, “This is a dream come true,” as he accepted a blue ribbon from organizer Madeline Martinez, and you could tell he meant it. The winners will make cuttings available to patients through Oregon NORML later this month. (“Dynamite,” the overall winner, also took first prize in smoothness, taste, and aroma.) Many growers wish they had access to an analytical lab so they could determine the true content of their plants and breed strains in which different cannabinoids predominate. Rick Bayer, MD, a Portland internist who chaired the legal and medical panels, was asked by a patient in a wheelchair about the best strain for spasticity. “That’s a good question,” Bayer reflected in an interview afterwards, “and you don’t want to recommend a strain that’s uninformative or misleading or named after somebody’s cat.” According to Bayer, the strains that score highest for medicinal effect were relaxants rather than stimulants, Indicas rather than Sativas.

More than 70 people attended the panels -including 11 lawyers who will pick Up 5.0 hours’ worth of continuing-legal-education credits from the state bar. A highlight of the medical session was a report by nurse Ed Glick concluding that Oregon patients who use cannabis to treat various physical conditions also experience reduced anxiety, depression, and insomnia. Oregon’s Medical Marijuana Program, which is administered by the Department of Health Services (DHS), does not recognize that psychiatric problems can be alleviated by cannabis. Glick’s data will be presented to DHS, which is authorized by law to expand the list of conditions treatable by cannabis. DHS turned down a request to add anxiety in 2000. Oregon law will change on January 1, 2006, when Senate Bill 1085 takes effect. (Its author, State Sen. Bill Morrisette, was thanked profusely at NORML’s awards dinner.) Patients and caregivers will be allowed to possess a pound and a half of dried herb and to grow six flowering plants and 18 vegetative plants under one foot tall. SB 1085 recognizes the reality of the grower -“the person responsible for the growsite”- who needn’t be a patient or caregiver. It limits to four the number of patients the growsite can serve. Thus the maximum number of plants in a garden will be 24 flowering and 72 starts -just below the number that triggers a mandatory-minimum sentence under federal law.

One provision calls for “a system to assist law enforcement in identifying legal medical marijuana patients and the addresses of grow sites” Which sounds like Big Brother will be watching, but not to worry: “law enforcement must identify themselves to access information. The information may only be used to verify registration under OMMA, and law enforcement may not share that information for any purpose with any other entity (for example, the federal Drug Enforcement Administration).” Little Brother will be watching and he promises not to tell Big Brother.

Under the revised law, growing and distributing medical marijuana must be a non-profit enterprise -literally. “Patients and caregivers may reimburse the person responsible for a marijuana grow site for the costs of supplies and utilities associated with the production of marijuana for the registry identification cardholder. No other costs associated with the production of marijuana for the registry identification cardholder, including the cost of labor, may be reimbursed.” Grant Higginson, MD, director of the state’s medical mj program (which had registered 12,040 patients and 5,791 caregivers as of November 1), took part in the panel on the revised law. The Oregon hosts were grateful for his presence, but a participant from California, Tod Mikuriya, MD, came away critical of the role Higgnison has played. Mikuriya says that Higginson, as Oregon’s Public Health Officer, is the final arbiter on whether psychiatric conditions should be listed as treatable by cannabis and thus bears responsibility for the negative decision in 2000. (A C-Notes source says that decision was probably made by then-governor John Kitzhaber, himself a physician.) Some Oregonians who wish to use cannabis to treat depression, etc., have told their doctors they’re experiencing nausea from taking Prozac or some other corporate antidepressant. The docs then approve cannabis use to treat the nausea and the patients keep filling their Prozac prescriptions to provide the all-important documentation. Which is ridiculous, dishonest, costly, demeaning to all involved, and legally necessary. Documentation talks, reality walks. Mikuriya decries “the increase in collection of certain kinds of data -especially grow-site addresses” that Oregon’s revised law will mandate. He calls it “a perfect set-up for prohibitory pogroms.” Having attended Reed College and trained at the State Hospital in Salem, Dr. Tod (who sometimes refers to himself as an anarchist) has a longterm perspective on Oregon politics. “There would appear to be an Oregonian tradition of civil-service job creation. The Oregon Liquor Control Commission still lives to dis-serve the public with their chain of state liquor stores, which has existed since I attended Reed over half a century ago. As a cost-saving measure it would be simpler to turn over OMMP to the OLCC so they could take their cut. Too late and impossible -the Department of Health Services got there first to develop a self-serving, self-justifying fiefdom in perpetuity. With impending implementation of Administrative Rule, the OMMP becomes the OLCC with tentacles and snooping powers. Unfortunately, due process and privacy have been suborned under medical guise. Accountability and transparency are unknown values. “Excessively elaborate practice standards are now mandated, yet International Classification of Diseases coding is not required. It is simply incompetence not to include this information, which is required on all insurance claims and would be extremely useful for research purposes. OMMP’s priorities and overall preoccupation with eligibility, exclusion, and surveillance reflect improper priorities that were not intended or mandated by Oregon voters.

“California anarchy plays out quite differently. Psychiatric disorders are included through ‘any other condition for which marijuana provides relief.’ [Mikuriya’s own contribution to the wording of Prop 215.] The decision is made by a physician exercising clinical judgment -not an opaque, political, unresponsive panel.” And whereas any licensed California physician can approve cannabis use by patients, Mikuriya notes, Oregon’s new law defines the requisite physician-patient relationship, “opening cracks where the pry bars of prosecutorial inquiry can be inserted.” Mikuriya also criticizes Oregon’s program for failing to establish a testing program to protect patients from herb contaminated by pesticide residue, fungi, molds, and bacteria. “If surveillance is desirable,” he comments, “it should be for the purpose of protecting the health and safety of the patient and the health of the environment.” Above all, Mikuriya wants to see the Oregon program “collecting data that will enable research to be conducted for evidence-based treatment.”

As for the new law’s non-profit clause, Dr. Tod diagnoses “Institutional denial. Denial that this medicine is a fungible commodity at the level of gold in value. Setting in place legislatively that there should be no compensation of growers for anything except supplies and utilities guarantees that there will be illicit transactions. This institutional denial provides both a breeding ground for covert compensatory activity and forestalls any taxation. It’s straight out of Gulliver’s Travels.”

FRED GARDNER is the editor of O’Shaughnessy’s Journal of the California Cannabis Research Medical Group. He can be reached at: fred@plebesite.com





Fred Gardner is the managing editor of O’Shaughnessy’s. He can be reached at fred@plebesite.com