Medical Marijuana Seizure Creates Debate

Jim Finnel

Fallen Cannabis Warrior & Ex News Moderator
A 1991 car crash left Jerry Blackburn with chronic pain dulled only by an onslaught of medications.

Unfortunately, the Winston resident says, the pills leave him retching, which in turn, aggravates his back pain further.

"They all make me sick to my stomach," the 44-year-old said recently.

And since his insurance won't cover the cost of anti-nausea medications, Blackburn found another solution – medical marijuana.

But when Blackburn's state-approved caregiver, or grower, found himself in handcuffs and accused of abusing the law, Blackburn found himself without his medication and in the midst of an ongoing government battle.

Police raided the Dixonville home of Dwight Ehrensing, 62, in August and allegedly found a horde of processed marijuana and marijuana butter and dozens of large cannabis plants, along with other illegal drugs – far more than his license to grow medical marijuana allowed.

Douglas Interagency Narcotics Team officers seized most everything, including the plants and processed marijuana intended for Blackburn and other medical marijuana cardholders.

Ehrensing's case is pending in Douglas County Circuit Court. He's also accused of selling marijuana, which is illegal even for cardholders.

In the meantime, the man's Eugene attorney, Brian Michaels, took the plight of three of those cardholders to Circuit Judge William Lasswell.

In December, the patients, including Blackburn, brought their stories of pain and suffering to Lasswell. Though they have the option of finding new caregivers, they hoped the judge would return some of the marijuana already available.

"The D.A. concurs that none of the patients did anything illegal," Michaels said recently in an interview, explaining that a 2005 legislative addition to the Oregon Medical Marijuana Act states that the marijuana grown for cardholders belongs to the cardholders.

The request has led to a legal battle officials seem to agree is a first for Douglas County.

Citing several issues with the decision, Deputy District Attorney Jeff Sweet protested. He argued in court that the seized drugs were state evidence that could be presented to a jury in the criminal case against Ehrensing. He compared it to returning a stolen gun used in a shooting to its owner while the case is still being prosecuted.

In the end, Lasswell sided with the patients, expressing empathy for the pain they endure.

Sweet appealed the decision and the Oregon Attorney General's Office took up the case on behalf of the Douglas County District Attorney's Office.

Shortly after, Douglas County Attorney Paul Meyer, representing the sheriff's office, also appealed the decision, with officials uncomfortable with the court order to return the marijuana.

"The federal law says the delivery of a controlled substance is a federal crime," Meyer said.

Michaels argues that the Oregon Court of Appeals has already heard a similar case and ruled in favor of returning the marijuana, but Meyer said past decisions are open to interpretation and hopes the court reconsider the issue.

Though the appeals led to temporary holds on Lasswell's court order, the appeals court eventually decided the order needed to be upheld until the issue could be hashed out.

In February, Blackburn headed to the courthouse to pick up a brown paper bag filled with 8 ounces of medical marijuana. Two other patients received the same.

To Michaels, that left the argument moot. But the county and state are still fighting Lasswell's decision, in part, because the judge is also allowing the patients to potentially return later for more.

To Sheriff Chris Brown, the situation goes to show the inherent problems with the medical marijuana law. Touted as a law about compassion and terminal illness, Brown insists it is actually about the legalization of a drug that has grown in potency and become more dangerous over the years.

The law, he said, is widely abused.

"There is no medical value," he said. "This is about being able to smoke dope and use dope."

According to DINT, officers handled two dozen medical marijuana violation cases in 2006. An estimated half of those were also connected to methamphetamine use, said Lt. Curt Strickland, DINT commander.

People like Blackburn insist that the law provides a valuable alternative to those who need it. Certainly, there are people who will abuse it, he said, but that's no different than other legal drugs, like someone driving drunk or selling prescription drugs.

"You're going to have that in everything you do," he said.

Medical marijuana in Oregon
- Number of patients currently holding cards in Oregon as of Jan. 1, 2007: 12,895

- Number of caregivers/growers holding cards for the Oregon patients: 6,190

- Number of patient cardholders in Douglas County: 948

- Most common diagnosed qualifying medical conditions: Severe pain; persistent muscle spasms, including but not limited to those caused by multiple sclerosis; nausea.

- Amount of medical marijuana a cardholder or caregiver can possess: 24 ounces of usable marijuana; six mature plants, 18 seedlings or starts.

Information from the Oregon Department of Human Services at State of Oregon: Oregon Medical Marijuana Program (OMMP).

News Hawk- User 420 MAGAZINE ® - Medical Marijuana Publication & Social Networking
Source: The News-Review
Author: Chelsea Duncan
Copyright: 2007
Website: The News-Review - News
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