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County Says So Long To Short-lived Marijuana Dispensaries

Jim Finnel

Fallen Cannabis Warrior & Ex News Moderator
Just after opening earlier this year, the sole remaining medical marijuana dispensary in Columbia County voluntarily shut down late last week, closing the door on what was largely becoming a growing illegal industry in Oregon, according to federal justice officials.

Early this month, U.S. Attorney Dwight Holton sent letters to area marijuana dispensaries saying their operations were illegal and owners would be prosecuted if they remained open, but Lori Neveau, co-owner of StayPuff Organics said she didn't receive one.

Soon enough, word that the Rainier dispensary had not received a letter traveled to Detective Phil Edwards, a St. Helens police officer and head of the Columbia Enforcement Narcotics Team, who immediately hand-delivered the letter in person to the dispensary late last week.

Neveau, her husband Ron Neveau, and her son Ryan Neveau decided to shut the business down, at least temporarily, to pursue legal advice.

"Our clients need us," Lori said. "But the last thing I wanted was Ryan going to jail."

Big River Cannabis Club, the only other dispensary in Columbia County located just outside of Scappoose city limits, closed down earlier this month after receiving the same letter.

Here's how it works: Someone with a qualifying ailment, such as chronic pain or cancer, visits a doctor who refers him or her to the Oregon Medical Marijuana Program. Patients then provide the proper paperwork and pay a $100 fee for a card, which authorizes them to use and possess marijuana for personal, medicinal uses.

The cardholders then must designate someone to grow the marijuana if they chose not to grow it themselves. And that's where dispensaries stepped in.

Though dispensaries were volunteering to be the designated grower for patients, many have been charging fees or asking for donations and, according to enforcement officials, this act constitutes profiting from the sale or production of a controlled substance, which is illegal.

"The law has been made specific, any variance is a violation," Edwards said. "Those operations are being conducted illegally."

Edwards said the county has not seen a correlating uptick in illegal marijuana busts with the increase of medicinal marijuana cardholders, and said the majority of cardholders are following the program guidelines.

"There are always going to be a portion of folks that are going to be outside the line," Edwards said.

Under the program, growers can only be compensated for costs associated with growing, but that does not include labor, said Oregon Public Health Division spokesperson Christine Stone.

That means there's no legal way for dispensaries to turn a profit.

Local police not pressured to act

Columbia County Sheriff Jeff Dickerson said local law enforcement officials hadn't received specific directives about enforcing the U.S. Attorney's position, which would be close to impossible considering the high level of staffing and man hours it would require.

"We have not been tasked with anything, " Dickerson said. "We don't have the resources to go after things like that."

Dickerson said the chances of getting a prosecution on a local level is unlikely, so much that it wouldn't make sense for already-stretched law enforcement agencies to use their resources for these types of cases.

From a law enforcement perspective, Dickerson said Oregon's medical marijuana program is a disaster that has "opened up a whole can of worms," as far as creating a potential for hazy, quasi-legal drug dealings.

One of the problems, according to users and enforcement officials, is that the program itself doesn't provide any clear way for those in need of medical marijuana to secure their medicine–– especially those who have debilitating diseases that make it difficult if not impossible for them to grow their own.

And that seems like a significant problem considering subscriptions are increasing 50 percent a year, said Todd Dalotto, the Vice-chair for the Advisory Committee on Medical Marijuana.

As of April there were 678 registered cardholders in Columbia County and nearly 40,000 in the entire state.

Cardholder access is limited, problematic

Steve Knebel, a Scappoose resident and medical marijuana cardholder, said one of the barriers to entry to growing marijuana is costly supplies.

"OMMP hands you a card and you're simply thrown out there and told to help yourself," Knebel said. "It's absolutely mind-boggling how unavailable it [marijuana] is to patients."

The easiest and fastest way for patients to secure medical marijuana is to buy it illegally on the black market, Knebel said. But many don't wish to break the law to buy medicine. That leaves them with the option of dispensaries or growing themselves.

Ideally, marijuana would be governed like any other prescription drug, with professional packaging that describes exactly what each strain does and what pain it eases, Knebel said. Regulation would give the government an opportunity to profit from the program as well as to provide the different types of marijuana to different patients.

There are currently no plans through the medical marijuana program to provide the means for users to acquire medical marijuana, Stone said.

"We don't get into the issue of where to find [marijuana]," she said. "We just administer the program."

NewsHawk: Jim Behr: 420 MAGAZINE
Source: spotlightnews.net
Author: Arwen Ungar
Copyright: Pamplin Media Group
Contact: Community Newspapers | Pamplin Media Group
Website: County says so long to short-lived marijuana dispensaries
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