BEND, Ore. — Since 1998, when medical marijuana use became legal in Oregon, the number of cardholders in the state has swelled.
As of last month, there are over 38,000 legal patients, and the number grows every day.
It’s always been and will continue to be a controversial medicine.
But it may be gaining ground, especially in our historically conservative part of the state.
Case in point: Within the past three months, Central Oregon has seen at least five medical marijuana clinics or clubs set up shop here.
And as we found, there was at first, outcry, then indifference — and now, it seems, acceptance.
"I hold it under my tongue and within minutes, the muscle spasms will go away. And with the small amount that I use, I don’t have intoxication," said 66-year-old Sandee Burbank of Hood River, who showed us how she uses a tincture of the drug.
She may be perhaps one of Oregon’s very first medical marijuana cardholders.
That’s because she helped write the legislation that became the law we have today.
Burbank has been a medical marijuana advocate ever since she tried it in college.
"This is a salve, and it’s made from coconut oil and cannabis — and that’s all," Burbank explained.
She says she’s always had severe anxiety, suffers from injuries she got in a car crash and now…
"I have arthritis, so I rub it on. When I found I could smoke cannabis and get that instant calm down that I would feel, I also noticed it made my pain, I would say — it turns my volume down a little bit."
Burbank is also one of the seven founding women of MAMA, Mothers Against Misuse and Abuse.
In Portland and The Dalles, MAMA is a not-for-profit clinic that helps new patients connect with legal growers, schedules doctors visits to see if someone is a candidate, holds growing classes and yes, they smoke and eat it together in a tightly restricted area and time.
And two weeks ago, MAMA expanded to Bend.
"MAMA looked at it as a wonderful opportunity to teach people how to be careful with cannabis," Burbank explained. "Like any other drug — aspirin, ibuprofen, methadone, morphine, like all the other drugs — cannabis can have problems as well."
Other than eating too much of it, Burbank says it’s helping to solve more problems than it’s creating.
For many folks suffering, the allure of marijuana is simply the idea of getting off addicting and strong prescription drugs.
Candidates must have physician records that show they suffer from specific ailments to be considered.
Take a drive down Northeast Division Street in Bend and they may be hard to spot at first: two new cannabis clubs and another medical marijuana help clinic, just yards apart.
Since voters shot down Measure 74 in November, dispensaries like California has. where patients can go and buy their medicine, are still illegal in our state.
In fact, you’re on your own to get it. However, state rules do allow a patient or caregiver to reimburse a grower for the cost of growing marijuana, with some exclusions, noted Keith Doyle, manager of The Herb Center, an “organic herbal farmacy’ on Division Street.
But Oregon’s program doesn’t keep a list of growers, won’t give you advice on how to grow it yourself and won’t give you seeds or starter plants.
Some patients say they’re forced to hit the streets and buy it the old-fashioned way, but others simply now go to a clinic to meet up with a state-registered grower and work out an agreement.
However, cannabis clubs, similar to Central Oregon Alternative Therapy or The Herb Center, usually work by patients paying a membership fee, setting up an appointment, then under strict rules so as not to violate the law, they can walk out with medicine.
Back in December, surrounding Division Street business owners were fearful of what it would do to their reputation.
Now most of those businesses have changed their minds about their neighbors.
"I don’t want to be followed home, or think that I have a bunch of medicine at home, is why I don’t want to be on camera," said Bryan, who doesn’t want to use his last name.
Bryan was going to be one of those neighbors. He and wife Laura just started the Patient Resource Center. They were close to setting up a clinic on Division Street, until they heard three others were already in the works.
Now they run a phone line out of their home, helping callers with information and driving discreetly to a patient’s home to deliver growers’ excess medicine that Bryan says is free of charge and given purely out of compassion.
"We’ve gotten calls from Bend, Prineville this morning, we got a call from La Pine last night," said Laura. "We have MS and fibromyalgia patients that it helps them sleep through the night, it’s amazing."
This couple agrees, Central Oregon is becoming more accepting of this age-old form of medicine.
"The need is stronger than the means of the controversy," says Bryan. "There’s more and more people becoming patients and more need for this so that is why these locations have opened up."
The next hurdle for medical marijuana patients is the issue of how to get their medicine easier.
Several Oregon lawmakers have proposed ideas for state taxation and growing cooperatives between groups of patients but so far, nothing has turned into a solid bill like that of Measure 74 that was voted down.