Pubdate: Thu, 24 Oct 2002
Source: Register-Guard, The (OR)
Copyright: 2002 The Register-Guard
Author: Matt Cooper


Supporters of medical marijuana said Wednesday that they intend to sue 
state and U.S. authorities on behalf of a Lebanon man whose plants were 
confiscated in a seizure that pits federal law against Oregon's protection 
of the drug as medicine.

Leroy Stubblefield, a 54-year-old veteran who uses a wheelchair, and two 
other users of medicinal marijuana lost 12 plants Sept. 23 in a seizure by 
federal authorities, said Paul Stanford, executive director of the Hemp & 
Cannabis Foundation, a nonprofit organization that has taken up 
Stubblefield's defense.

Stanford said Stubblefield is the first person in Oregon whose 
state-licensed marijuana garden was confiscated by the federal government, 
a charge that the federal Drug Enforcement Administration would not confirm.

Although the 12 plants were within Oregon's rules for medical possession, a 
DEA agent confiscated them under the federal law that bans the drug, 
Stanford said.

Stubblefield smokes marijuana to curb sleep apnea, pain suffered from an 
automobile accident and post-traumatic stress disorder.

Speaking at a news conference at his countryside home outside of Lebanon, 
Stubblefield said he was incensed by the federal seizure and the lack of 
protection afforded him despite his status as a legal user of the drug in 

"The more I think about it, it bothers me more and more," Stubblefield 
said. "I felt we were left unprotected by our county."

The search was conducted by drug enforcement officers from the county's 
Valley Interagency Narcotics Team, or VALIANT, along with DEA agent Michael 
Spasaro, Stanford said. VALIANT is Linn and Benton counties' narcotics task 
force, combining law enforcement agencies, district attorneys' offices, the 
National Guard and Oregon State Police.

The officers were acting on a tip that Stubblefield and his caregivers had 
about 100 illegal plants, Stanford said.

Linn County Sheriff Dave Burright confirmed Stanford's account that Spasaro 
stepped in after local authorities had determined that the plants were 
legal under Oregon law.

"They went up there based on information they'd received that there were 
plants far in excess of what was allowed" under Oregon law, Burright said.

"There were 12 (plants), which was within the Oregon law, but it was the 
federal officer that decided to enforce federal law, not the VALIANT officers.

"Ken Magee, assistant special agent in charge of Oregon DEA operations, 
said it's common for federal agents to work with local and state 
authorities, and he rejected the notion that local and federal authorities 
were at odds over the seizure.

"There's no conflict of opinion whatsoever," Magee said. "Different 
authorities have investigative authority and legal authority of different 

No search warrant was served, but the residents consented to the search, 
Magee said, adding that the U.S. Attorney's Office will decide whether to 
press charges against Stubblefield and his caregivers.

"Marijuana is illegal under federal law to manufacture, possess and 
distribute, and we enforce those laws," Magee said.

"The DEA has their position and we're sticking to it until I receive 
further notice."

Ann Witte, a Portland attorney who has represented the hemp foundation in 
other matters, said she plans a two-pronged legal attack in Stubblefield's 

Witte wants the federal government to return the confiscated property and 
pay for damages, and she said she'll target the state to prohibit agents 
from working with the federal government on all marijuana investigations.

Under Oregon's 1998 Medical Marijuana Act, the user "is exempt from any 
criminal prosecution as long as he abides by the act - and that includes 
search and seizure," Witte said.

"When the state is going around giving people their word - 'As long as 
you're complying with state law, we won't bother you' - they shouldn't be 
taking the federal agents with them once they know that the federal agents 
aren't going to be bound by that."

Attorney Leland Berger, a member of the legal committee for NORML, the 
National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, said the courts 
haven't resolved a host of issues related to medical marijuana, including 
whether seizures such as this violate the Ninth and 10th amendments to the 
U.S. Constitution, both protections of states' rights.

Intervention in state law is warranted only when there is a "compelling 
federal interest," Berger said, and in this case, the most likely one - 
that Stubblefield or the others intended to sell their product - already is 
forbidden under the state marijuana act.

"It's all up in the air," Berger said.

"Everything that's going on will ultimately be resolved by the Supreme Court."

Following the seizure, Stanford's foundation supplied Stubblefield and his 
caregivers with seven more plants and several ounces of marijuana, and he 
all but dared the DEA to make a return trip to Stubblefield's home.

"I'd love to be here and greet them," Stanford said.

"I wish they would try to prosecute me."

Said Magee, of the DEA: "We look at each investigation on its own 
individual merits."
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom