August 19, 2007 in City

Medical marijuana law sows confusion

Associated Press The Spokesman-Review

MEDFORD, Ore. – The war on drugs can lead to some false alarms.

Police in southern Oregon say they get at least one call a day this time of year from someone who has spotted marijuana plants. Sometimes the calls the lead to arrests. Often, however, police find medical marijuana sites that comply with Oregon law.

“Once the plants extend beyond a fence, we get calls on a pretty regular basis,” Medford police Lt. Tim Doney said.

“It used to be real clear-cut,” Doney said. “If you saw marijuana, it was illegal. Now we have to do more homework.”

Sgt. Rick Valentine, supervisor of the Jackson County Narcotics Enforcement Team, estimates that nearly 90 percent of easily visible gardens are medical marijuana, but said investigators must respond to every call.

Just this month, Valentine coordinated seven officers who served a search warrant on what they thought was a massive marijuana-growing operation.

They were poised to kick in the door of a greenhouse filled with plants when they learned it was actually a registered medical marijuana site.

“This is a frustration for us,” Valentine said. “When we spend time on what turns out to be legal activity, it takes away from what we could do on illegal activities.”

The fizzled raid upset the grower, who was granted anonymity in a recent interview with the Mail Tribune newspaper.

“I felt pretty violated,” the grower said. “I’m not a criminal. “They turned out to be nice-enough guys, but I wish they had talked to me.”

He said he wished his neighbors had come to him before calling the cops. The grower said he would have explained that he is the registered grower for four medical-marijuana patients – a 22-year-old woman who was in a car crash and suffers from back pain, her mother who has multiple sclerosis, a woman with ovarian cancer, and an elderly man who gets frequent migraine headaches.

Investigators try to avoid such errors by checking the Oregon Medical Marijuana Program database of medical marijuana patients, caregivers and growing sites. The program, operated by the Department of Human Services, shows that as of July 1, the state had issued 14,868 medical marijuana cards statewide.

Under the Oregon Medical Marijuana Act, each cardholder can have six mature plants, 18 seedlings, and 24 ounces of usable marijuana. A registered grower can grow for up to four cardholders.

But investigators say the law is sometimes abused, and if they have suspicions backed up by observation or witness statements, they will seek a search warrant.

In his initial survey of the greenhouse searched earlier this month, Valentine said he estimated about 300 plants. But when the officers serving the search warrant counted stems, there were only 24 – six for each of the cardholders.

“The law doesn’t say what ‘too big of a plant’ is,” Valentine said.

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