Early Thursday morning, 70 officers from various local, county, state and federal agencies participated in coordinated raids investigating what they claimed were “drug trafficking organizations” selling marijuana out of storefronts in Southern Oregon and Eugene according to multiple media outlets. Four arrests were made at the Southern Oregon locations, and two arrests were made in Eugene while police continue looking for a third suspect who was only identified as “male”. The locations were all patient resource centers for Oregon medical marijuana patients and various residences associated with them.
Lori Duckworth, Leland Duckworth, Dave Bond and Michael Schanno were arrested in Southern Oregon; Chelsea Hopkins and Jill Tanner were arrested in Eugene according to the Register-Guard in a coordinated search warrant execution targeting the medical marijuana resource centers.
According to KTVL CBS, there were eight total search warrants issued in the Southern Oregon region:
On Thursday, they made four arrests, searched four businesses, three homes and one location in Josephine County:
- So-Norml, 300 block of West Sixth Street, Medford
- Puffin’ Stuff, 100 block of Crater Lake Avenue No. A, Medford
- The Green Compass, 1700 block of East McAndrews Road, Medford
- The Compass, 500 block of Second Avenue, Gold Hill.
- 3100 block of Hyacinth Avenue, Medford
- 2700 block of North Keen Way, Medford
- 2600 block of Tahitian Avenue, Medford
- 3300 block of Dick George Road, Cave Junction.
Charges include delivery of a controlled substance within 1000 feet of a school. Lori and Lee Duckworth were each charged with 11 separate charges and bail was set at $550,000 each.
Timing of raids politically motivated?
Noelle Crombie, reporting for the Oregonian, highlighted the potential political and retaliatory nature of the timing of the raids: “Leland Berger, a longtime marijuana advocate and Portland lawyer, wondered whether police targeted Duckworth because of her activism. He also questioned the timing of the raids. Friday’s furlough day for state employees and the Memorial Day weekend likely mean Duckworth and the other defendants will remain in jail until Tuesday.” Medford Police Chief Tim George denied the claims of any “political agenda” and insisted that the cases are “state cases on the sale of marijuana, period.”
However, Oregon’s medical marijuana law allows for growers to be reimbursed for the costs, specifically supplies and utilities, associated with growing marijuana and only specifically excludes labor costs. Many resource centers throughout the state of Oregon have attempted to find legitimate and legal means of providing excess marijuana to medical marijuana cardholders in safe and secure environments while remaining on the right side of the state law. For many resource centers, this has involved variations that include renting space to growers to meet with patients privately in a neutral location that is comfortable to both the growers and the patients or accepting donations equal to the costs of production as allowed under state law. Methods of reimbursement at the targeted locations were not revealed in the press conference by police, and instead were summarized as “controlled buys.”
Many of these resources centers and growers have been raided in the last few years, primarily during either harvest season for outdoor growers (early fall – also when elections take place) or while the legislative session is in progress and marijuana reform bills are pending (mid to late spring) while police continue to reiterate that “sales of marijuana” are illegal and identify a lack of compliance with state laws to justify the raids.
Controlled buys or reimbursement for lawful patients?
Police have used legitimate cardholders in controlled buys in order to bust the various resource centers for what they claim are unlawful sales. After confirming that the informant is a lawful patient possessing a valid registry identification card, the resource center allows the patient to reimburse the grower for the costs allowed under law, and police use this as evidence that a “sale” occurred. According to a press release from Medford police, throughout the previous two years of investigation, “MADGE witnesses have made multiple controlled buys of marijuana from each of the listed businesses.”
However, police refuse to acknowledge the fact that reimbursement under the state law is perfectly legal and multiple agencies did not respond to my requests seeking clarification on the features that set apart lawful reimbursement for medical marijuana under ORS 475 with illegal sales of marijuana, which specifically excludes transfers among cardholders so long as they do not include “consideration” defined as anything of value. Without any clarification on the differences between “reimbursement” and “consideration”, more and more advocates for safe access are finding themselves with criminal charges pending. In an article entitled “Slouching towards Oaksterdam”, Leland Berger illustrates the area of law in question and how a collective model attempts to deal with this area of the law (with the caveat that “Free legal advice is worth what you paid for it”):
On the other hand, there is nothing which prevents a patient from helping another patient reimburse the second patient’s grower, so that the second patient’s grower is reimbursed (by that grower’s patient” for providing excess medical cannabis to the helping patient. And there is nothing to prevent the second patient from delegating or assigning the right to receive the help from the first patient (or any other patients) and also delegating or assigning the responsibility of reimbursing the grower for the costs of supplies and utilities for the excess medical cannabis. The question then becomes, what does a dispensary employing such a model look like?
The short answer is that it looks like a collective. Patients would pay a membership fee to become a member of the collective which fee would cover the cost of running the collective.
Proponents have argued that these resource centers enable new patients to locate medical marijuana without having to resort to the black market, and provide an outlet for growers to legitimately eliminate any marijuana in excess of state limits. Law enforcement, on the other hand, has been trained to identify all the features of these models as evidence of criminal behavior in a pre-medical marijuana world and they do not attempt to differentiate between lawful exchanges of marijuana and illegal distribution of a controlled substance under the law. If anything of value is involved, it is deemed “unlawful sales.”
Were the Duckworths targeted for their activism?
Lori and Lee Duckworth are long-time medical marijuana proponents who are very outspoken in Southern Oregon. Lori is the Executive Director of Southern Oregon NORML which shares space with the Southern Oregon Cannabis Compassion Center which she also manages. The location is next door to the federal building in downtown Medford which houses federal law enforcement. Her husband Lee is the president of Southern Oregon NORML.
Both have openly advocated for reforming marijuana laws in Oregon and nationwide. Lori has coordinated raid support teams in the past to support local patients, growers and advocates as they have been raided by police and is usually among the first on the scene in order to share the information with advocates statewide and monitor police activity at the scene.
She also made news in the last few years for her defense of medical marijuana patients who were denied Concealed Handgun Permits because their names appeared in the confidential registry of medical marijuana participants. That case went all the way to the US Supreme Court which rejected hearing the case; multiple courts along the way rejected the arguments presented by Sheriff Mike Winters of Jackson County and Sheriff Rob Gordon of Washington County and repeatedly ruled in favor of issuing the weapons permits to the four cardholders represented in the litigation.
The two sheriffs argued that the federal ban on illegal drug users possessing firearms trumped state laws on issuing the permits for possessing concealed weapons, and therefore they were correct to reject applications from those who possessed medical marijuana cards. Lori also had her own court case after her concealed weapons permit was initially rejected, but ultimately the sheriffs were ordered to issue the permits. Her lawsuit was approximately two years ago, roughly the same time the investigation began into the alleged “unlawful sales” from the Southern Oregon Cannabis Community Center. Evidence seized from Thursday’s raid was only generally identified so far, but included “weapons” among items seized. Sources close to the Duckworths have stated that this likely refers to Lori’s personal firearm.
Political timing of raids coincides with budget woes at legislature
Two states legalized marijuana in the 2012 elections and the public opinion is favoring nationwide legalization in the near future. The Oregon Legislature is currently looking at bills to regulate medical marijuana dispensaries in addition to other positive reforms to the medical marijuana law, with law enforcement typically representing the sole opposition to the efforts. One bill, HB 3371, even proposes legalizing and taxing marijuana like alcohol and has been supported by multiple media outlets that strongly opposed earlier efforts by activists to legalize marijuana by citizens’ initiative. The Oregonian Editorial Board suggests that any pot measure that makes the ballot for 2014 is likely to pass after recent polling demonstrates 64% support for legalizing marijuana in Oregon, and argues that the legislature should responsibly help guide the process to ensure the best outcome.
In addition, the legislature is looking to make significant budget cuts, including cuts affecting the public safety portion of the budget. Law enforcement officials have lobbied hard to prevent the budget cuts from going into effect, including recent radio ad buys from the AFSCME that decry a proposed $40 million dollar budget cut that the ads claim are irresponsible and would result in “get out of jail free cards” for 1300 convicted felons and the possible closure of four state prisons.
When asked how much the raids would cost the taxpayers during the press conference on Thursday afternoon, Sheriff Tim George said he could not speculate on exact figures, and that there was a lot of overtime involved. Two years worth of investigating these patient resource centers spending countless hours orchestrating the “controlled buys”, plus 70 officers executing coordinated search warrants in a single day; one can only imagine what those costs might be. According to Russ Belville’s coverage of the press conference regarding the raids, however, this “high intensity drug trafficking area” received federal funding of $100,000 for the budget year 2012 and is set to see an increase in funding for 2013 of 25% to $125,000.