Timber harvests, medical marijuana, same-sex marriage - local citizens heard both sides of the argument Tuesday night on those and other contentious issues voters will face in a half-dozen measures on the November ballot.

More than 40 people attending a measure forum at the Astoria Library heard supporters and opponents of six initiatives present their cases, and asked questions about the measures. The gathering was sponsored by the American Association of University Women and the North Coast Women's Political Caucus.

Arguing ballot Measure 33, which would expand the state's medical marijuana program, were Columbia Memorial Hospital emergency physician Carolyn Wells and Clatsop County Chief Deputy Sheriff Tom Bergin.

Wells said the rules of the original 1998 medical marijuana initiative, which allows people with a doctor's prescription to grow small amounts of the drug for personal use to treat various illnesses and conditions, make it difficult for many patients, especially the very sick, to ensure themselves an adequate supply.

"Marijuana does not just grow like nasturtiums," she said.

The new measure would increase the amount of marijuana a patient could possess to up to one pound, allow nurse practitioners and naturopaths to write prescriptions, and create a system of dispensaries to supply the drug.

Bergin said local law enforcement teams have investigated several grow operations of medical marijuana card holders that were much larger than allowed. Marijuana is not difficult to grow, he added, noting that some large outdoor grows were tended only three times a year.

And the marijuana grown today contains as much as 10 times the active drug THC as it did 20 or 30 years ago, he said. "This is mind-blowing stuff."

The new initiative doesn't place any limits on who can dispense the drug, opening up the program to convicted felons, Bergin said.

Measure 34, the "Tillamook 50/50 Plan," is being supported by a coalition of conservation, fishing and recreation groups who want to see one-half of Oregon's state forests, including the Clatsop and Tillamook forests, set aside for protection of water quality, wildlife habitat and recreation.

Jeremy Rogers from the Yes on 34 Committee said the measure grew out of public frustration over the crafting of the existing state forest management plan, which he said ignored public input and put in place a strategy that boosts logging, including clear-cutting, and ignores the state forestry department's own mission to manage the forests for the "greatest permanent value."

Tillamook County Commissioner Tim Josi, who authored a resolution opposing the measure that was adopted by the Clatsop County commissioners last month, said the "structure-based management" tool in the current forest plan is intended to produce similar to those in older forests through a cycle of thinning.

The timber harvest levels called for in the current plan are far below what the forests could produce under models proposed by private timber operators, Josi said. The counties that rely on revenue from the forests agreed to support the management plan with its lower harvest levels, but Measure 34, he said, could cost local governments and districts in Clatsop County more than $10 million a year.

With no proponent for Measure 35 available, Tom Duncan, a family physician at Lower Columbia Clinic in Astoria, spoke for and against the initiative, which would limit non-economic damage awards in medical malpractice lawsuits to $500,000.

Duncan said he's experienced first-hand the problem of medical malpractice lawsuits that the measure is aimed at. Four years ago, he and his wife, nurse midwife Sue Skinner, were sued for $16 million by a woman who claimed the baby they delivered was injured during birth. The case was eventually dropped without the woman having produced any evidence, but not before it cost them $60,000 in legal fees, Duncan said. His insurance carrier covered those costs, but eventually the company dropped all its clients in Oregon, leaving him and Skinner without malpractice coverage, he said.

Despite that, Duncan said Measure 35 is flawed because, by covering only medical cases, it creates a separate category of victims. Caps on injury awards, he said, need to be part of a package of reforms.

Measure 36, which amends the Oregon Constitution to define marriage as between one man and one woman, was "a response of last resort" after Multnomah County began issuing marriage licenses to gay and lesbian couples last spring, said Georgene Rice from the Yes on 36 Committee.

The measure does not deny rights to same-sex couples, Rice said, but it is necessary to reinforce support for traditional marriage, which she said studies show is the most beneficial arrangement for a child's well-being.

Measure 36 opponent Meredith Savage said the initiative discriminates against gays and lesbians by denying them many of the legal protections, including the power to make decisions for a partner in emergency medical situations, that only a legal marriage provides.

"All parents deserve those rights, whether they're gay or straight," she said. "This would put unequal treatment of gays and lesbians into our constitution."

Asked if Measure 37, the property compensation initiative was an assault on Oregon's land-use system, District 31 Rep. Betsy Johnson had a one-word answer, an emphatic "Yes."

A modified version of another initiative that was passed in 2000 but invalidated in court, Measure 37 requires governments to compensate landowners if a land-use regulation harms the value of their property. Measure 37 proponent Dave Hunnicutt, who had a statement read at the forum, said the initiative is not the budget-buster many opponents claim because it gives local governments the option of altering or dropping a regulation instead of paying compensation. The measure also exempts fire and building codes, pollution control rules and various other regulations, he said.

But the clause allowing governments to waive rules means "the choice to decide who gets special favors and who doesn't," said Johnson, who added that the measure will cost the state millions of dollars at a time when the legislature expects to go into its 2005 session with the state facing a budget deficit of as much as $600 million.

A proponent of Measure 38, the SAIF Corporation initiative, was unable to attend. Jessica Harris-Adamson from the Associated General Contractors and co-director of the anti-38 group, said the measure, which would require the State Accident Insurance Fund to stop renewing policies in 2006, is intended to abolish the agency for the benefit of an out-of-state insurance carrier, Liberty Mutual, which spent $2 million to get the measure on the ballot.

Scandals involving payments to consultants and other misdeeds by SAIF have caused headlines in recent months, but abolishing the agency would be a blow to Oregon industries, especially small businesses, 60 percent of whom rely on SAIF for insurance coverage, Harris-Adamson said.

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