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Medical marijuana backers see state, fed conflict

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When federal drug agents showed up at Travis Paulson's Lebanon home two
months ago with a search warrant, the medical marijuana grower thought he
had nothing to fear.

Under Oregon law, Paulson is licensed to raise, use and provide marijuana
for medicinal purposes. But because federal law forbids the drug, the U.S.
Drug Enforcement Agency confiscated 104 plants and cuttings, leaving
Paulson and six other patients with nothing.

Paulson said the incident highlights the struggle between the nine states
that permit medical marijuana use and the U.S. government.

"I live in Oregon. My life is governed by Oregon law," said the 52-year-old
Paulson, who smokes marijuana to combat pain from childhood hip injuries.
"The only time I worry about the federal government is when they raise the
price of stamps or I pay my taxes."

He supports a recent appellate court ruling against a 1970 federal law
outlawing sick people's use of marijuana with a doctor's recommendation.

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled Tuesday in San Francisco that
prosecuting these users is unconstitutional if the marijuana isn't sold,
transported across state lines or used for non-medicinal purposes.

That effectively bars the Justice Department from prosecuting medical
marijuana cases during legal proceedings, said Kevin Neely, spokesman for
the Oregon attorney general's office.

Drug enforcement officials declined to comment, saying that the agency was
still examining the ruling.

"We have a job to do, and that is to enforce federal drug laws," spokesman
Rusty Payne said. "That's what we do. That's what we'll continue to do."

But medical marijuana advocates said the ruling paves the way for other
legal victories.

"I've seen more and more positive action swinging our way. Marijuana is
becoming more and more accepted," said Leroy Stubblefield, a 55-year-old
cardholder whose suit against the Justice Department and the Drug
Enforcement Agency is pending in federal appeals court.

Two years ago, a federal drug agent seized 12 marijuana plants from the
Sweet Home residence Stubblefield shares with two caregivers -- just after
the quadriplegic Vietnam veteran was cleared by local authorities to use
the drug.

"My chin dropped to my chest," Stubblefield said. "Our rights were
definitely violated."

Medical marijuana groups, meanwhile, are working to expand the program
approved by Oregon voters in 1998. The plan would increase the plant limit
from seven plants to 10, drop the $100 licensing fee to $50, and create
nonprofit dispensaries throughout the state.

About 7,000 Oregonians hold doctor-approved cards allowing them to grow
three mature plants and four immature plants and a possess small amount of
harvested marijuana for medical purposes. Another 2,000 or so are on
waiting lists.

About 4,000 caregivers are allowed to grow marijuana for others but are
barred from using it themselves.

By SARAH LINN, Associated Press Writer