Marijuana jar

A jar of marijuana is shown at a recreational marijuana retailer in Huntington in July of 2017.

ONTARIO — A bill working its way through the Oregon Legislature combines an element of hemp, but focuses mainly on medical marijuana, expanding the type of health-care providers who can recommend patients to be medical marijuana cardholders.

Senate Bill 1561 had a hearing Tuesday before the Senate Judiciary Committee. The first part of the proposal directs the Oregon Department of Agriculture to develop a plan to establish the Oregon Hemp Program, for commercial production and sale of hemp, according to the bill summary.

In opening the hearing, committee Chairman Sen. Floyd Prozanski, D-Dist. 4, noted that this provision is needed if the state is going to manage its hemp program. Additionally, he said the bill would bring the state’s program in compliance with the Federal Farm Bill’s provisions on hemp, as required.

The bill says the plan must certify that the state Ag Department is able to administer its program, and that it must set qualifications for obtaining a license to grow or handle hemp, standards for growers or handlers, steps on identifying plans where hemp is grown, and procedures on sampling and testing hemp for levels of THC.

Medical marijuana

Among the marijuana provisions, the Oregon Cannabis Commission, which is part of Oregon Health Authority, would be tasked to develop a framework for future governance of the state’s medical marijuana program. This would include specifying the health-care providers who will be able to recommend marijuana use for a patient to a obtain a medical marijuana card.

Health-care providers who will be able to authorize use of the medical marijuana card would be doctors, physicians, nurse practitioners, naturopathic physician and dentists.

Nurse practitioners testifying during Tuesday’s hearing said while they do work with doctors, they are often the primary caregivers to a number of patients with debilitating medical conditions, and that while they cannot certify patients for medical marijuana cards, they can prescribe opioids.

Medical conditions covered include those such as cancer, glaucoma, a degenerative or pervasive neurological condition, positive status for human immunodeficiency virus or acquired immune deficiency syndrome, or side effects related to treatments.

Other medical conditions can include severe pain or nausea, seizures, persistent muscle spasms and post-traumatic stress disorder.

Ken Hart, president of Saint Alphonsus Medical-Center Ontario, said the Medical-Center has nurse practitioners in its clinic and physicians’ assistants in the hospital but since its receives funding from federal sources, it has to follow federal guidelines regarding marijuana.

According to a statement from Saint Alphonsus, it and Trinity Health (of which is it is a part) “follow all state and federal laws,” and where state and federal laws do not align they follow federal law, which supersedes state law.

Some states allow providers to recommend the use of marijuana to patients for some medical conditions, but since federal law prohibits this, Saint Alphonsus must comply with it.

“Trinity Health could jeopardize payment and participation to Medicare and Medicaid programs by allowing providers to follow state law in regards to marijuana policies,” the statement reads.

The bill will up for a vote on Thursday to send out to the Senate Floor.

Larry Meyer is a news reporter at The Argus Observer. He can be reached at (541) 823-4813 or by emailing To comment on this story, go to

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