SALEM - The Obama administration's decision not to interfere in medical dagga laws in several US states has emboldened a citizens' initiative to get the state of Oregon involved in providing the drug for residents who have permission to use it.
Medical dagga advocates are seeking to put on the November ballot a measure to create a system in which state-licensed dagga growers would distribute their crops to dispensaries where people could buy the drug to treat their ailments.
Currently, those people either have an approved provider grow it for them or grow it themselves.
On Monday, backers of the initiative turned in 61000 petition signatures in hopes of qualifying the issue for the ballot.
A total of 82769 valid signatures are needed to qualify the measure, and backers have until July to collect the remainder.
Oregon is one of 13 states that have legalised dagga for medical use. On Monday, the New Jersey legislature approved a bill that would make it the 14th state to allow chronically ill patients access to dagga - and Democratic governor Jon Corzine, who supports the legislation, could sign it before leaving office next week, making it law.
Of the 13 states that have legalised the drug, five of them - including California - make provision for dispensaries where patients can get it.
Because of earlier concerns about possible federal intervention, there had been no serious movement in Oregon to join the medical dagga states with dispensaries.
But things changed last October, when the Obama administration announced it would not go after people in states who use medical dagga legally.
"It was a watershed event. It's really the thing that has made this ballot initiative viable," said John Sajo, executive director of the Voter Power Foundation, which is backing the measure and which helped draft Oregon's 1998 law.
Washington spokesperson for the National Organisation for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, Keith Stroup, said that the Obama administration's stance will prompt other states to also consider dagga dispensaries.
Oregon law allows registered patients to grow up to six mature dagga plants or designate a grower to do it for them. But many patients don't want to do either.
"People should have a safe place to obtain cannabis. We should treat it like any other medication," said Alice Ivany, a Newport woman who uses dagga to alleviate the pain she's suffered since losing her lower left arm in a timber mill accident years ago.
Ivany is one of the co-sponsors of the proposed initiative that would require the state health division to license, inspect and audit growers and dispensaries.
It also would create a programme, administered by the state, to provide medical dagga to indigent patients.
The programme would be funded by licence fees and taxes on growers and dispensaries.
Oregon's current medical dagga programme was enacted by voters in 1998, who approved an initiative measure setting it up by a 55-45percent margin.
As of January 1, 26274 patients were registered with the state to use dagga for medicinal purposes, with 5836 more applications pending final approval.
People with pending applications are allowed under state law to use medical dagga.
It's been estimated that there are about 15000 medical dagga grow sites in Oregon, operated either by the user or an approved grower.
Any proposed expansion of Oregon's programme is being opposed by some law enforcement officials. They cite a spike in the number of dagga busts involving growers who have received permission to cultivate a small amount for medical use but who grow more than the law allows and sell it illegally on the street. - Sapa-AP