Pubdate: Sun, 15 Aug 2010
Source: Mail Tribune, The (Medford, OR)
Copyright: 2010 The Mail Tribune
Author: Paul Fattig, Mail Tribune


Law Enforcement Agencies Struggle to Manage Legitimacy of Growing 
Fields of Medical Marijuana

 From above, the bushy green plants in backyard after backyard
resemble English topiary gardens, neat and tidy.

But a closer look at the gardens hidden from passersby behind tall
fences tell a different story: cannabis crops mushrooming under the
umbrella of the 1998 Oregon Medical Marijuana Act.

A helicopter flight this month with U.S. Rep. Greg Walden revealed
numerous cannabis crops growing adjacent to homes in every community
in Jackson and Josephine counties, ostensibly to service the area's
more than 7,000 medical marijuana cardholders.

"Shocked and stunned - I had absolutely no idea the breadth and scope
of these backyard grows," exclaimed Walden.

"I cannot imagine most Oregonians who voted for this law and are
sympathetic toward people who are sick and in pain would believe what
has happened as a result of this law," added Walden, 53, a Republican
from Hood River.

whose 2nd Congressional District includes Jackson County and a portion
of eastern Josephine County. "I don't think people understand how out
of control this has gotten."

But down on the ground among his cannabis plants in the Ruch area,
licensed marijuana grower James Bowman, 50, believes the pot patches
are healthy indicators of Oregon's changing culture.

Although he acknowledges the 1998 law may need fine-tuning, he looks
at it as an important turning point in state history.

"I think it's going fairly well - probably the best in the nation at
the time when it was approved," he said.

"There is nothing people should be afraid of with this, no more than
they should be afraid of the vineyards you see around here.

"We are a regular farm like any other," he added. "Cannabis should be
considered a commodity like anything else."

The law allows medical marijuana cardholders to possess six mature
plants, 18 starts smaller than 12 inches tall and 24 ounces of
processed, usable marijuana.

It permits a caregiver to cultivate cannabis for up to four
cardholding patients, allowing a registered caregiver to grow up to
two dozen adult plants at a time. Growers say the law doesn't limit
the number of growers who can work cooperatively.

For instance, Bowman has a medical marijuana card for himself and is a
registered caregiver, meaning he can grow for up to four other
patients. At his site, multiple caregivers are working together,
growing cannabis for 70 patients.

"We have 70 patients, so that would allow us 350 budding plants to
have at one time," he said, though he says his site always contains
about 100 fewer plants than the legal limit to err on the side of
caution. His site currently has fewer than 200 mature plants, he said.

Many police officers say the law has too many loopholes, and they
question the legitimacy of most of the medical marijuana patches.

"We either have a lot of sick people or a huge abuse problem - I would
say it's the latter," said Medford Police Deputy Chief Tim George.

"All the law enforcement officers in the state are shaking their heads
over this situation," he added. "Nobody in law enforcement is arguing
that cancer or glaucoma patients shouldn't have it if they need it.
But most people don't need marijuana for medical reasons."

Noting that someone with a green thumb can grow a large plant that
produces five to seven pounds of "high grade bud" worth some $2,500 a
pound on the street, George said it wouldn't be unusual to produce a
plant whose harvest exceeds $15,000.

"I don't want to sound callous about sick people, but this is really
about the money," he said. "Our problem with law enforcement is how to
keep track of all this. It's off the charts."

Like other police departments in the region, his officers regularly
deal with medical marijuana growers who are out of compliance, he
said, though statistics were not immediately available.

"I am swimming in weed," he said, describing it as a controlled
substance that is out of control. George, an outspoken critic of the
1998 law, fears it will only get worse if Oregonians approve a measure
on the Nov. 2 ballot that would establish medical marijuana

"You can't have a Vicodin tree in your backyard," he said, referring
to a prescription pain medication. "This (1998) law was one of the
biggest mistakes the state has ever made."

During his flight, Walden met with the seven county sheriffs in the
region who are part of the Southern Oregon Multi-Agency Marijuana
Eradication & Reclamation group organized by Jackson County Sheriff
Mike Winters.

The sheriffs, including Winters, told Walden that the marijuana issue
is overtaxing law enforcement efforts. They also expressed concern
that today's marijuana is much more powerful than your parents' pot
back in their college days.

"Medical marijuana is a joke," said Josephine County Sheriff Gil
Gilbertson in an interview with the Mail Tribune. "The amount of
people who have those cards is ludicrous. My understanding is that
only about four percent of the cardholders have legitimate ailments.

"This is creating a nightmare for law enforcement," he added. "Who is
going to knock on all those doors to check if they are legal? It would
take several full-time deputies just to do the checks. We don't have
the resources for that."

His department frequently receives calls from people alleging that
individual medical marijuana growers have too many plants, he said.

"When that happens, we have to take a deputy off another case to check
it out," he said. "It's time-consuming."

Williams resident Laird Funk, 65, a longtime marijuana advocate and a
member of the Oregon Department of Human Services' Advisory Committee
on Medical Marijuana, doesn't believe growers purposefully ignore the

"I wouldn't be concerned even if they were," he said. "But I don't
think anyone is stupid enough to overtly grow more than the limit."

Instead, he believes law enforcement agencies are going out of their
way to find reasons to bust medical marijuana growers.

"I think people are cognizant of the fact police are still playing
gotcha with sick people," he said.

Bowman, who said he hopes Walden will someday visit his medical
marijuana operation in Ruch, said he understands the dilemma police

"I feel like the police are in an awkward spot," Bowman said. "The law
is very gray so the police are left to make individual interpretations
of it.

"The problem is you don't have a clear law that all the cops can
follow," he said. "The Medford cops, they interpret a different way
than the sheriff might. They see it from the traditional crime point
of view. The cops have been addicted to the money they get from the
war on drugs."

Bowman said he has no major issues with the enforcement being done by
both Winters and Gilbertson in regard to the medical marijuana law.

In fact, the Jackson County Sheriff's Department helped avoid an
"armed invasion" four years ago at his site, he said.

"They called us up out of the blue and said, 'Hey, we need to talk.
We've got this information and we would like to prevent something bad
from happening,' " he said, noting that several people had apparently
planned an attempted theft of pot grown on his property.

"I'm really indebted to them and see that as the future of how we can
all work together, rather than this rhetoric of 'how bad the cops
are,' " he said.

However, theft isn't a paramount concern like it was just a few years
ago, he said.

"Theft is still an issue but not as much because cannabis growing is
becoming more prevalent," he said.

Although his property covers five acres, only two acres are in
cultivation, he said. About 30 volunteers help care for the cannabis,
he said.

"One of my concerns about the law is that none of the workers can
legally be paid," he said. "The law specifically says all expenses can
be reimbursed except for labor."

He would like to see that aspect of the law changed.

Bowman said he supports the eventual full legalization of

"Take cannabis off the controlled substance list - alcohol, caffeine,
cigarettes aren't on it," he said, although cautioning it should be
used in moderation.

He also sees it as a potential major source of tax income for the
state, as well as an employment opportunity for Oregonians.

"We grow better cannabis than anywhere else in the world - without a
doubt," he said. "Southern Oregon is renowned for its cannabis, as
well as its red wine."

He figures some three-dozen sites in the region, from Glendale south,
could be used for processing centers.

"They could easily hire 100 people at each center," he said. "That
would be new jobs right now. We're asking for the economy to be set
free and let the Rogue Valley benefit from this to grow this industry.

"Let's go beyond the medical argument and go to legalization," he

Meanwhile, Bowman doesn't much like it when a helicopter flies
overhead and hovers, apparently checking out his crop.

"And that's even though we are doing everything we can do to be
legal," he said. "They fly 100 feet or so above us. You can see their
faces. It makes you wonder what are we doing that deserves that kind
of treatment. The law enforcement agencies need to use their resources
on something else - gang intervention or whatever.

"But by the same token I like the fact they can use that technology so
they aren't bugging us down here every other day," he added.

Walden, whose helicopter did not hover over Bowman's grow site,
indicated he would take Bowman's invitation into consideration.
However, the lawmaker is adamantly opposed to legalizing marijuana.

"Mark me down as old-fashioned, but I don't think that would be
helpful to our communities or families," Walden said, who believes the
use and production of cannabis is linked to other crimes.

"This is not the ditch weed of the '70s," he said.

"Somebody needs to do an independent review of this law so we can
understand how the law is being used or misused," he said. "But it's
clear there are very few prosecutions now of illegal backyard grows.
It's the Wild West of marijuana out there now."



Cardholders statewide as of July 1: 36,380

Cardholders statewide same time last year: 23,873

Applications for new cards or renewal of cards currently being
processed by OMMP: 5,037

Number of cardholders statewide who said they use marijuana to control
severe pain: 32,614

Counties with the most cardholders:

Multnomah - 6,379

Jackson - 4,302

Lane - 3,993

Josephine - 2,784

Physicians statewide with OMMP patients: 1,584

Number of states with medical marijuana laws: 14

Sources: Oregon Medical Marijuana Program, National Conference of 
State Legislatures