SALEM, Ore – The Oregon Legislature's latest idea for a tax? Medical marijuana.
The state would take over growing and distributing marijuana to patients in the medical-marijuana program under a bill introduced Wednesday. Sponsored by Rep. Ron Maurer, R-Grants Pass, House Bill 3274 imposes a $98-per-ounce tax, which would cover the state's cost of operating and securing the production center.
"I'm not a pot guy, but the water's under the bridge. That's not the issue," Maurer told The Oregonian newspaper. "Let's not even discuss that. Let's discuss is the program working? The answer is unequivocally no, that the program is not working."
Oregon voters approved the use of medical marijuana more than a decade ago, deciding chronically and terminally ill patients should be allowed to use the drug to ease pain. Roughly 21,000 Oregonians now have cards authorizing them to use it for medicinal purposes, according to the state Department of Human Services.
Maurer and three co-sponsors think the bill would improve public safety by eliminating private medical-marijuana grow sites. Some private growers have been accused of illegally selling marijuana to those who don't have cards; other sites have been targeted by burglaries and home invasions.
A bill co-sponsor, Rep. Chris Harker, D-Beaverton, told the Statesman Journal newspaper that the measure "takes medical marijuana off the streets and into a safer and more secure environment."
Current law allows registered patients to possess six mature cannabis plants, 18 immature seedlings and 24 ounces of usable cannabis. In 2004, voters rejected a measure that would create state distribution centers.
Though the proposal is considered a longshot at best, it is expected to be heard in a committee.
"When we have bipartisan support like that for a bill, it is typical that it will at least get the courtesy of a hearing," said Geoff Sugerman, spokesman for House Speaker Dave Hunt.