An internal review of the Oregon Medical Marijuana Program (OMMP) has identified administrative shortcomings that enabled growers, dispensaries and laboratories to operate without effective oversight. It also found that statutory restrictions have limited OMMP's ability to answer information requests from local law enforcement officials, even as the program protects patient confidentiality.
The issues have heightened the risk for medical marijuana to be diverted from patients, who rely on cannabis to treat medical conditions, into the black market. The report can be viewed on the OHA website at http://healthoregon.org/ommp.
Oregon Health Authority Director Patrick Allen requested the study in response to changing demands on OMMP in the wake of voter approval of legalized recreational marijuana sales. The agency also has heard concerns from local officials who have been frustrated as they sought information about grow operations in their communities. The report will be presented to the Oregon Cannabis Commission July 23.
"More than 40,000 Oregonians depend on medical marijuana to treat their qualifying medical conditions," Allen said. "We are taking steps to maintain the integrity of Oregon's medical marijuana program and make sure medical products reach the patients who need them. The actions we're taking include better tracking of growers, better enforcement, and making sure product that fails testing has been destroyed."
The study identifies several challenges OMMP has encountered since it was established in 1999. Some of these administrative problems existed before voters approved recreational sales in 2014. Other issues were compounded by a changing market and regulatory landscape for OMMP and medical marijuana patients once marijuana was legalized. These issues include:
- Reporting and tracking: OMMP's reporting and tracking of growers and cannabis have been inadequate and inaccurate, and monthly compliance has been historically low, ranging between 26 percent and 42 percent during 2017.
- Grow site validation: OMMP lacks reliable, independent tools to validate grow site addresses and relies on inconsistent county databases.
- Grow site inspections: As of January 2018 there were more than 20,000 grow sites across the state. However, in 2017 OMMP completed only 58 inspections. OMMP does not have sufficient staff to conduct the number of inspections that would deter grower non-compliance with program requirements.
- Laboratory testing and product destruction: While OMMP has protocols that require the destruction of products for the medical market that fail laboratory tests for pesticides and other chemicals, the program had difficulties with ensuring the appropriate and verified destruction of those products.
OMMP is taking action to improve its regulation of medical marijuana. The program is requiring dispensaries, processors and certain growers to use the Oregon Liquor Control Commission's Cannabis Tracking System (CTS). The program is ensuring that applicable growers meet new tracking requirements. In addition, OMMP will require patients to provide proof of address when processing applications, which will help validate grow site locations. As part of implementing SB 1057 (2017), OMMP will take enforcement action against participants who don't comply with reporting requirements by July 1, 2018, whether reporting in CTS or in OMMP's internal monthly reporting system. Finally, the OMMP's compliance program has finalized and started using a viable destruction protocol.
OMMP currently verifies grow site locations for local authorities and has a hotline to field grow site address inquiries. The confidentiality of grow site addresses is protected in statute and these limitations can pose a barrier to the program's ability to respond to some local law enforcement requests. In addition, the program is exploring ways to more closely work with local law enforcement to ensure compliance at medical marijuana grow sites.
The study acknowledges that OMMP successfully established and administered a program that provides more than 40,000 patients dependable access to medical cannabis and regulates more than 20,000 grow sites. In addition, frequent legislative changes have affected OMMP's ability to consistently regulate and monitor the medical marijuana market. Chronic underfunding and understaffing has affected OMMP's ability to meet the demands of robust regulation, particularly in the years immediately following the legalization of recreational sales in Oregon.
Source: Oregon Health Authority