Rep. Jim Weidner of McMinnville is typically the most conservative Republican on the House Health Committee, but after an emotional debate on Friday he was moved to become the lone GOP representative to join with the Democrats to send to the floor Senate Bill 281 — which would expand the state’s medical marijuana program to allow prescriptions to alleviate post-traumatic stress disorder.
Weidner said his son served in Iraq and came back with post-traumatic stress disorder. His son found solace and mental health support through their church, not from marijuana, but Weidner was convinced it should be an option to others.
“Of the group of men he went over with, he knew five who committed suicide, and they did not all have a support group to reach out to,” Weidner said. “I’m going to support this out of committee just because I know what’s going on, and it’s troubling. … If somebody doesn’t have a support system and this is the only thing that can bring them to where they’re feeling normal or not on edge, I’m willing to give it a shot because I know what’s going on in their lives.”
The bill will be carried on the floor by Rep. John Lively, D-Springfield, a Vietnam-era veteran who told his colleagues on the Health Committee that he himself had suffered from PTSD.
“I have friends who served in Vietnam and who served in other wars since, and frankly the only thing that’s provided them some help is marijuana,” Lively said. “I think it’s a crime that the only choice we give them is to be a criminal.”
SB 281 passed the Senate in April on a bipartisan 19-11 vote.
The House Health Committee heard testimony from mental health providers in California and New Mexico who advocated marijuana and its ability to activate the brain’s endocannabinoidal receptors as the only effective medicinal treatment. They said Zoloft and Paxil — the only two drugs approved for PTSD by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration — were ineffective, with side effects including increased suicidal ideation.
The Department of Veteran’s Affairs has also approved cognitive talk therapy for sufferers of PTSD. Three states explicitly approve of medical marijuana for PTSD — Connecticut, Delaware and New Mexico.
But Rep. Jim Thompson, a Dallas Republican, raised serious concerns about the overall medical marijuana program, even as he said he didn’t doubt the efficacy of marijuana for PTSD.
“We don’t have any standards for the quality of the product,” Thompson said, saying rodent feces, mold and insect parts had been found in the state’s medical marijuana supply.
Rep. Brian Clem, D-Salem, approved SB 281 even as he agreed with Thompson’s statements, calling the medical marijuana program a “national laughingstock” and said he had friends with medical marijuana cards because they once had a hurt knee.
Clem said he’d prefer Oregon just legalize marijuana the way Washington did rather than keep its current medical marijuana program, but in the meantime he wanted to help veterans avoid the fate of his father.
“I had no dad growing up because he was drunk all the time because he had killed people in Vietnam and couldn’t sleep,” Clem said.
Rep. Bill Kennemer, R-Oregon City, also drew concerns to the program, saying he had heard from garbage collectors that teenagers were getting pot from Dumpsters after medical marijuana growers had disposed of leaves and other waste material.
“I was told it was not the leaves that you smoke,” Rep. Mitch Greenlick, D-Portland, quipped in response. “I was told it was the buds.”
Greenlick said marijuana dispensaries, which would help regulate the distribution of marijuana — would be provided through another bill, House Bill 3460, which passed the Health Committee and had a hearing in the Committee on Ways & Means.
Currently, medical marijuana patients can only get their pot through growers, and there is little oversight over the quality of the product. HB 3460 would give them the choice of acquiring marijuana under the current system or from a supervised retail outlet.
That bill has the support of budget chairman Rep. Peter Buckley, D-Ashland, and should also become law.