Medical marijuana fees put patients on fixed incomes in bind

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EUGENE, Ore. - Elvy Musikka relies on medical marijuana to get through her day.

The 73-year-old Eugene grandmother joined Oregon's medical marijuana program in 2005 to treat her glaucoma.

Musikka also receives medical marijuana from the federal government as part of a now discontinued research program created in 1978.

But she said that medicine is so old it's no good.

"In other words, it probably would have been very nice as hemp for wearing but it obviously was no medicine for glaucoma," she said. "I cannot work with 11-year old garbage."

Fresher marijuana under Oregon's program filled the gap.

"I was getting 3 pounds from the State of Oregon and what I was doing was mixing it up," said Musikka from her home in South Eugene.

Last October, the state imposed new fees on medical marijuana card holders. The new fees doubled the annual cost of getting a medical marijuana card to $200. It also imposed grower fees of $50 and, if patients switch growers or change the address where it's grown, the state charges an additional $100.

"This is not something I wanted to do," said State Representative Peter Buckley. "We faced the largest budget gap in Oregon's history, $3.8 billion."

Buckley said some of those additional fees are being used by the state to subsidize state health services including family planning, clean drinking water programs and emergency health services.

"We raised fees in many different areas in order to try to cover vital programs that absolutely had to keep going," said Buckley.

Still Musikka said that fee increase directly affects her.

"For them to come at us and ask for a hundred dollars from us, I find that very criminal," said Musikka.

She lives on a fixed income of $700 a month and said she she's now been forced to drop out of the program. And she said she's not alone, dozens of others have also been forced to drop out because of costs.

"I lost sight unnecessarily because of the change in those rules," she said.

She said without her Oregon medicine, her glaucoma has steadily gotten worse, resulting in two separate eye surgeries.

"It turned into two detached retinas, it turned into me being completely blind for a month."

She said she's trying to get by on what she has, but if continues to not be able to afford her Oregon Medical Marijuana card, she's worried about her eyesight.

"Sure I could get some help and get that card now because people have come forward and want to pay for it for me. But I don't want to be a charity case to be able to use my prescription in Oregon."