Legal To Oregon, Illegal To Federal Agents

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LEBANON -- Travis Paulson was heading into the kitchen one recent morning to
fix breakfast for himself and his 84-year-old mother, Loretta, when he
noticed what appeared to be black-clad "ninja warriors" in his back yard.

It turned out to be a house call from the U.S. Drug Enforcement
Administration. The agents took the marijuana plants Paulson had nurtured in
a fiberglass-walled grow area to heights of 12 feet, his day planner, laptop
computer, checks intended for deposit, $3,300 in cash and several firearms
from underneath his mother's bed.

According to Paulson, one of the agents remarked, " 'Gee, you're pretty
obvious at what you're doing.' " To which Paulson, who has an Oregon license
to grow medical marijuana replied, "Why wouldn't I be?"

Because the federal government does not recognize Oregon's 1998 law
permitting residents to grow marijuana for medicinal purposes, DEA officials
say they're simply enforcing federal laws.

The raid, which marked the second time in a year DEA agents have seized
marijuana cultivated in Oregon for medicinal uses, is part of a larger
conflict between the Bush administration and Oregon voters.

The Bush administration has also challenged Oregon's doctor-assisted suicide
law in court. The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals is expected to decide
later this fall whether a lower court ruling upholding the law should stand.

The legal scuffling doesn't sit well with Oregon House Rep. Floyd Prozanski,
D-Eugene. The Bush administration is "very quick to say they believe in
states' rights, except for (these issues) and anything else they don't agree
with," he said. "When the federal administration differs with state law in
any state, they are applying their enforcement procedures to gain
compliance."

Meeky Blizzard, acting press secretary for U.S. Rep. Earl Blumenauer,
D-Ore., agreed. "Oregon voters have voted for medical marijuana as they have
voted for assisted suicide, and the federal government does not seem to be
paying attention to what the citizens of Oregon are saying."

Brian Blake, spokesman for the White House Office of National Drug Control
Policy, said he could not comment specifically on the two seizures of
medical marijuana in Oregon. Federal drug agents, he said, are not targeting
Oregonians who grow medical marijuana but are going after what he called
"the marijuana threat." And medical marijuana, he said, "is part of the
marijuana threat."

"We believe that the federal law is still in effect here," said Blake, "and
therefore when the DEA is going out doing these busts they're enforcing
federal law, and that hasn't changed, regardless of what ballot initiative
has passed in a state."

Federal officials do not recognize any medicinal use for marijuana, said DEA
spokesman Tom O'Brien, citing a U.S. Supreme Court ruling. "Marijuana is
still considered a drug, an illegal substance. "When's the last time you
went to a doctor and he said, 'Here, take two joints and go home. This will
make you feel better.' "

DEA seizes 104 plants

DEA investigators raided Paulson's home in Lebanon on Oct. 2 after receiving
a tip about his marijuana crop and obtaining a search warrant, O'Brien said.
The search warrant return, which would detail the items seized from his
residence and also outline the nature of the investigation, is under seal in
U.S. District Court.

O'Brien said DEA agents confiscated 48 mature marijuana plants and 56
immature plants, far more than what Paulson is allowed under state law.
Paulson was not arrested. DEA reports were forwarded to the U.S. attorney's
office for possible criminal charges, O'Brien said.

The raid is similar to a Sept. 23, 2002, sweep of a Sweet Home area
residence in which a DEA agent who coincidentally accompanied state and
local authorities on a drug search seized 12 marijuana plants being grown
legally under state law. In that raid, local authorities determined that the
resident was abiding by state law, but the federal agent confiscated the
plants.

The Oct. 2 Lebanon raid, however, was solely a DEA operation.

Kevin Neely, spokesman for the state attorney general's office, said that
although residents who participate in the state medical marijuana program
are operating legally under state law, they still risk federal prosecution.

"There's nothing we can do to remove that risk or minimize that risk," Neely
said.

Paulson is a licensed cardholder under the state's medical marijuana program
and is a "caregiver" for six other adults, meaning he can furnish their
marijuana.

Oregon has 6,062 licensed medical marijuana patients, state records show.
The state also has 3,815 licensed caregivers. Among the licensed cardholders
Paulson supplies with marijuana is Lebanon resident Cornelius Davis, who had
cancer in his esophagus removed in 1998. He smokes marijuana to ease his
pain and increase his appetite.

"I'm on a fixed income, so I can't go out on the street and buy it," Davis
said. "So I just suffer."

By law, residents who are licensed to grow marijuana for medicinal use can
have three mature plants and four immature plants. Paulson concedes his 48
plants, which measured 10 to 12 feet high, exceeded that amount.

But he said he cultivates marijuana to maturity only in the summer and
harvests that crop for his entire yearly use. The 56 immature plants were
clones he intended to plant next spring, he said, and he anticipated
becoming a caregiver for another patient.

White House skeptical of program Dr. Grant Higginson, the state public
health officer, said that whether or not federal agents continue to
confiscate marijuana grown legally under Oregon law will be determined
solely by how aggressive the Bush administration enforces federal drug laws.

"It does appear to me that the only way that it's going to be solved is if
the Oregon program goes away or if the federal government reschedules
marijuana so it could be considered a prescription drug," Higginson said.

Blake, the federal drug office spokesman, said the Bush administration's
position is that the medical marijuana issue is being pushed by people who
want to legalize drugs. "If you look at the people who are behind these
initiatives, where the money is coming from," said Blake, "the groups that
are out there presenting marijuana as medicine, they aren't the American
Medical Association."

Blumenauer spokeswoman Blizzard scoffed at the suggestion that Oregon voters
were trying to legalize marijuana by giving their support to medical
marijuana.

"Certainly the voters of the state of Oregon don't have a hidden agenda.
They have a right to pass laws to govern these things. If the (Bush)
administration is concerned about the war on drugs, they need to be paying
attention to other more dangerous aspects of it."

Paulson said it doesn't make sense that state and federal officials can't
resolve the conflict. "This has to be resolved. It just can't go on. My life
is controlled by the state. Those are the laws I follow."

Steve Suo of The Oregonian contributed to this report.


Pubdate: Sun, 12 Oct 2003
Source: Oregonian, The (Portland, OR)
Webpage:
http://www.oregonlive.com/news/oregonian/index.ssf?/base/front_page/10658734
74272280.xml
Copyright: 2003 The Oregonian
Contact: letters@news.oregonian.com
Website: OregonLive.com