Pubdate: Mon, 21 May 2012
Source: Statesman Journal (Salem, OR)
Copyright: 2012 Statesman Journal
Author: Nigel Duara


Drug Trafficking More Dangerous, She Says

PORTLAND -- The proliferation of dispensary-style medical marijuana 
operations in Oregon concerns the state's new U.S. Attorney, but she 
said she's unwilling to devote much time or money to prosecuting a 
criminal activity that's low on her list of priorities.

U.S. Attorney Amanda Marshall said the number of dispensaries in 
Oregon has been growing. Her office estimates the state hosts at 
least 100, most of which are in the Portland metro area.

In 2010, Marshall's predecessor joined his counterparts in other 
medical marijuana states by sending warning letters to operations it 
felt were the most egregious offenders of the state's medical 
marijuana law, threatening them -- or their landlords -- with civil 
asset forfeiture if they didn't close shop.

The problem, Marshall said, is that Oregon's medical marijuana law 
was passed without any enforcement power or extra money for local 
agencies to crack down on the worst actors.

"I don't know that the law itself is the problem, so much as the lack 
of oversight in terms of the medical marijuana grows and 
distribution," Marshall said Friday. "When you look at it, you've 
(had) a handful of prosecutions and you've got over 100 dispensaries, 
there's no oversight.

"They passed this law, and there's no additional resources or funding 
mechanisms for law enforcement."

Medical marijuana took center stage in Oregon politics last week when 
it emerged as a flashpoint in the Democratic primary for state 
attorney general.

Former interim U.S. Attorney Dwight Holton had criticized the state 
program as a "train wreck," mobilizing marijuana advocates to lobby 
against him. It's impossible to tell whether the issue played a role 
in Holton's loss to retired judge Ellen Rosenblum, but it accounted 
for at least one-quarter of Rosenblum's fundraising.

Marshall said she wouldn't use the words "train wreck" to describe 
Oregon's law.

"I'm not here to say this law is good or bad or to suggest future 
legislation or future policy direction," said Marshall, who took 
office in October. "People say, 'You're the U.S. attorney, are you 
going to go after medical marijuana?' No I'm not. I don't care about 
medical marijuana."

The state's law, passed in 1998, allows patients to possess 24 ounces 
of marijuana.

In 2010, Oregon voters rejected a ballot measure that would have 
legalized California-style dispensaries. Cannabis club owners say 
their properties aren't dispensaries but havens for cannabis users to 
obtain and use the medicine they would otherwise have to grow 
themselves, have grown for them or buy on the black market. They say 
marijuana available at cannabis clubs often comes from authorized 
growers who donate it.

To Marshall, the threat isn't from cancer patients growing plants in 
their window boxes for personal consumption. Rather, it's drug 
trafficking operations that move bales of marijuana from Oregon and 
California's fertile growing climate to the East Coast, where it 
retails for $5,000 per pound.

"Pounds and pounds and pounds of marijuana are being shipped out of 
Oregon, not to sick people needing cards but to drug dealers who are 
selling it, who are laundering money, who are evading taxes," she 
said, "and it's dangerous business."

Voters didn't know what they would get when they approved the law in 
1998, Marshall said. They approved six plants per patient, believing 
the yields would be sufficient for personal consumption, she said.

"People weren't thinking about the plants that we saw pulled out of 
the ground in Southern Oregon that produced 10 pounds of manicured, 
smokable marijuana bud," Marshall said. "These people are master gardeners.

"I wish I could grow tomatoes like that."
- ---
MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom