Medical pot dispensaries bill would 'add a new layer to the enforcement'

PORTLAND, Ore. - Oregon lawmakers approved a bill that adds dispensaries to the state's outlets for medical marijuana, but some critics are still not happy with the last-minute changes that caused lawmakers to pass it.

The state House of Representatives approved the bill on Saturday. It establishes a licensing system for medical marijuana outlets.

The bill, which passed 32-27, now goes to Gov. John Kitzhaber to sign. A spokesperson with the governor's office said he has not decided whether he will sign it.

Current law requires medical marijuana cardholders to grow the weed themselves or find someone to grow it for them. The bill would enable cardholders to purchase the drug from state-licensed medicinal pot shops.

Last-minute changes to keep anyone with a prior conviction for manufacture or distribution of a controlled substance from running a dispensary convinced the Oregon District Attorney's Association not to oppose the bill.

Instead, the association was neutral on it. Some district attorneys, however, are still not happy with the bill.

"We're going to be dealing not only with patients but also the people that are going to be selling it and dispensing it," said Oregon District Attorney's Association President Tim Colahan. "So it's going to add a new layer to the enforcement."

Supporters say legalizing dispensaries will make it easier for the state's nearly 55,000 medical pot users to get their medicine and harder for the black market to get its hands on Oregon weed.

"The problem we have, as you know, is trying to have people find safe access," said Madeline Martinez, board member with the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML). "Because if you have a law, and the law says you have a right to do this but you have no place to go get your medicine, then what do you do? You're forced to go to the waterfront, to the black market, and that's not safe."

Some opponents argue the bill doesn't have enough teeth to go after people who abuse the state's medical marijuana program.