Armed Drug Enforcement Administration agents raided a large medical marijuana garden Tuesday in Ruch, removing dump-truck loads of mature marijuana plants.
But federal officials, assisted by Oregon State Police and Jackson County sheriff's deputies, were tight-lipped about the operation that continued late Tuesday.
"We are executing a federal drug search warrant," said Jodie Underwood, a DEA special agent who spoke to reporters outside the site.
"There are multiple addresses — we have multiple federal drug search warrants," she said.
She referred media questions to the U.S. Attorney's Office in Portland, where spokeswoman Gerri Badden confirmed the target included High Hopes Farm in the 700 block of Upper Applegate Road and several related locations.
The operation was part of an investigation involving illegal manufacture and distribution of marijuana, she said.
"Because the investigation is pending, there will be no further comment," Badden said.
Law enforcement officers at the entrance to the property kept the media and a small group of pro-medical-marijuana protesters away from the site.
By 2 p.m., a large truck that usually carries gravel rumbled out of the driveway, its load of marijuana plants largely covered by a tarp. Another load emerged several hours later.
From a site off Highway 238 immediately west of Ruch, an excavator could be seen digging the large plants out of the marijuana gardens.
Calls to the High Hopes Farm were not returned Tuesday. The farm has been operated by state-licensed grower James Bowman, 52, a longtime outspoken advocate of medical marijuana. Bowman told The Associated Press in April he planned to plant about 400 marijuana plants this year for 200 patients.
While law enforcement officers were largely mum, several people who said they were medical marijuana cardholders were outspoken in their support for the farm.
Brenda Powers, 43, of Grants Pass, held a sign which read on one side, "DEA Go Away." On the other, it added, "Oregon Did Not Invite You."
She and others said they felt Bowman was legally growing medical marijuana under the auspices of the 1998 Oregon Medical Marijuana Act.
"I'm tired of the federal government making up rules as it goes," she said.
Chelsea Hopkins, 24, from the Greenery, a medical marijuana resource center in Ashland, would agree. She became a medical marijuana cardholder and grower to help control the chronic pain from a metal rod in her lower left leg and a metal plate in her ankle, she said.
"This will affect mostly the patients he is trying to get medicine to," she said of the raid. "We are going to see a need for more medicine for the patients that are going to lose their medicine. It will also put fear in other growers' minds."
She surmised the raid was launched at this point because this is approaching prime harvest time.
"It was about this time last year they came around and started raiding people," she said.
DEA agents raided medical marijuana gardens on Dark Hollow, East Gregory and Table Rock roads in October 2011. Seven months later, six men were indicted on charges they funneled thousands of pounds of excess buds to the black market. The federal indictment accused the men of growing at least 4,000 pounds of excess marijuana at the Medford and Central Point gardens.
Brian Wayne Simmons, Clifford Ruhland, Caleb Joseph Kulp, Scott Grantski, Michael Reed Peru and John Wayne Johnson are scheduled to go to trial Nov. 13 in federal court on charges of manufacture, delivery and possession of marijuana.
Hopkins declined to comment on whether Bowman's farm was in compliance, noting she knew Bowman but had never been to the farm. He had a reputation of being on the "up and up," she said.
"He is very passionate about what he does, and has good ideas about how to change the law to help growers and help get medicine out to patients who need it," she said.
"In Southern Oregon, we have a really great environment to grow outdoors, whereas in other places in Oregon they don't," she added. "We have an opportunity down here to help a lot of patients get medicine."
Geri Kulp, 67, of Ruch, who is Caleb's mother and is an activist with a medical marijuana card, was also upset by the raid.
"People's rights are being trampled on," she said. "We have a state law that has been in effect for years and years.
"If this is closed down, the medical patients will go to the streets, to the black market," she added. "This is legal under our state law. The state issued these cards, OK?"
She cited cancer patients who have used medical marijuana to ease their pain.
"It helps them eat, helps them sleep, helps them have a laugh or two before they die," she said.
Meanwhile, a neighbor, who declined to give her name, said the High Hopes Farm has had plenty of visitors at all hours.
"Non-stop traffic, day and night, 24/7, peeling out of here," she said. "It doesn't feel like good energy, knowing the people going in and out who don't live here.
"We knew there was some kind of business going down there," she added. "Now we know."
Reach reporter Paul Fattig at 541-776-4496 or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.