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MailTribune.com
  • In the weeds

    Marijuana dispensary raids put state laws under the spotlight
  • Agaunt, anxiety-ridden Lori Duckworth spent Thursday cleaning the room where she stored and doled out medical marijuana to patients seeking relief from various ailments for the past five years.
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    • Oregon medical marijuana facts
      Number of OMMP patients statewide: 53,117
      Number of OMMP caregivers: 26,813
      Number of applications denied/rejected between April 1, 2012 and March 31, 2013: 2,098

      Breakdown of OMMP car...
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      Oregon medical marijuana facts
      Number of OMMP patients statewide: 53,117

      Number of OMMP caregivers: 26,813

      Number of applications denied/rejected between April 1, 2012 and March 31, 2013: 2,098

      Breakdown of OMMP cardholders by county

      Jackson — 6,489

      Josephine — 4,058

      Klamath — 916

      Douglas — 2,170

      Multnomah — 9,125

      Lane — 5,785

      Curry — 648

      Deschutes — 2,717

      Clackamas — 3,813

      — Source: Oregon.gov
  • Agaunt, anxiety-ridden Lori Duckworth spent Thursday cleaning the room where she stored and doled out medical marijuana to patients seeking relief from various ailments for the past five years.
    She did this knowing there's a chance she will never run a medical cannabis dispensary again.
    "If I'm convicted on all these charges, I will probably spend the rest of my life in prison," Duckworth said.
    Duckworth, 48, and her husband, Leland Duckworth, 49, each face 22 felony drug charges. Police allege the pair used their dispensary at Southern Oregon NORML as a front to sell marijuana for profit.
    The SONORML office on West Sixth Street in Medford was one of four medical cannabis dispensaries raided by police on May 23. The office is a local affiliate of the NORML, the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws.
    The Jackson County raids made headlines across the country and prompted an outcry from local medical-marijuana advocates, who claim police were doing little more than trying to prove a point that they disapprove of the Duckworths in particular and the medical-marijuana community in general.
    Medford police Chief Tim George said the raids had nothing to do with the politics behind medical marijuana or the debate over legalization.
    "In this case I take the 'medical' out of it," George said. "This was about illegal marijuana sales happening at these locations. They were selling marijuana for a profit, and that is against the law."
    The raids were the result of a two-year investigation in which police used confidential informants to make controlled marijuana purchases at the dispensaries, police said.
    George declined to comment on how the local investigations were conducted. Many undercover buys involve informants wearing body wires that record illegal dealings.
    Duckworth disputes police allegations. She says that she was acting in good faith and following the rules outlined in the Oregon Medical Marijuana Program.
    "I know in my heart that I was within the law," Duckworth said. "If I was this big-time drug dealer, why do I drive a 2001 Dodge Neon and not live in a big, nice house?"
    The Duckworths are barred from speaking to each other and cannot share the same room until their legal issues are settled. They have been together for 21 years, and this represents one of the longest stretches they have been apart, Duckworth said.
    "This is tearing my family to pieces," Duckworth said.
    The Duckworths are charged with 11 counts each of conspiracy to deliver marijuana within 1,000 feet of a school, and 11 counts each of manufacturing marijuana within 1,000 feet of a school.
    They each were initially lodged in the Jackson County Jail on $550,000 bail. The raids happened on a Thursday, a day before a state furlough day — when the courts are shut down — making it impossible for them to see a judge the next day. The following Monday was Memorial Day, so the court was closed again.
    In effect, the Duckworths were blocked from appearing before a judge for four days because of the circumstances.
    Had they been able to appear before a judge, their bail might have been lowered or they might have been released on their own recognizance. Instead, they each would have had to come up with $55,000 — 10 percent of their listed bail — to be released.
    Duckworth said she believes the timing was part of a ploy by law enforcement to harass them because they've been so vocal in their medical-cannabis advocacy.
    "This was planned the way it was for a reason," Duckworth said. "They could have done those raids at any time, but they chose those days."
    George said the department was unaware of the furlough day until the day of the raids. He said the steep bail was out of police control, because the state sets the bail for drug crimes.
    Class A felonies, which is what the Duckworths face, carry a $25,000 bail. If you add up the number of charges against the Duckworths, 22 for each, it reaches $550,000.
    "We don't decide what bail to charge," George said. "That's not the police department's job."
    A judge reduced the bail to $5,000 for Lori Duckworth and $10,000 for Leland Duckworth after they had spent a week in jail.
    Duckworth also says information released by the police about what was seized during the raids was inaccurate.
    Police said that nearly 12 pounds of marijuana was taken from SONORML.
    "I never kept more than a pound and a half here at one time," she said.
    Duckworth claims that the only money that changed hands in the dispensary was for reimbursement of grower's costs. She said that receipts for soil and other growing materials were required at all times.
    Police also said they seized 22 pounds of marijuana from the Duckworths' home, which she disputes.
    "If they seized that much at my home, then they brought it in with them," she said.
    Police also descended on three other dispensaries that day: Puffin' Stuff on Crater Lake Avenue, The Green Compass on East McAndrews Road and The Compass on Second Avenue in Gold Hill.
    David James Bond, 44, of Puffin' Stuff, was arrested on eight counts of conspiracy to deliver marijuana within 1,000 feet of a school.
    Michael Robert Schanno, 40, owner of The Green Compass and The Compass, was charged with four counts of conspiracy to deliver marijuana, four counts of conspiracy to manufacture marijuana, delivery of marijuana and manufacture of marijuana. He was lodged on $550,000 bail but was later released because of overcrowding.
    The raids occurred as lawmakers are set to consider a bill that would increase state and city regulation of marijuana dispensaries.
    House Bill 3460 is expected to reach both the House and Senate floors for votes, according to its co-sponsor, Rep. Peter Buckley, D-Ashland.
    If passed, the bill would create a more transparent system in which dispensaries could operate, Buckley said.
    The goal is to require the dispensaries to keep clear records of their inventory and document that patients are registered with a grower who supplies the location with cannabis.
    "One police officer can then walk into a dispensary and see if it is within the regulations," Buckley said. "The idea that we have law enforcement spending two years in these raids that happened is an incredible waste. Let's regulate these things to make it easier for law enforcement to tell whether a dispensary is operating under the regulations of the Oregon Medical Marijuana Program."
    Not everyone is sold on the merits of the bill.
    Troy Morris, a chemical engineer with m-Research, a Corvallis startup that is exploring ways that marijuana can be used for medical purposes, thinks the bill would do little to fix the major flaws in the OMMP program or to stem the flow of medical marijuana to the black market.
    Morris has done site assessments for Oregon dispensaries, providing advice about how to operate within the OMMP, and some of what he's seen has left Morris shaking his head in frustration.
    "Many of them are operating under misinformation, but it's misinformation that they are choosing to believe," Morris said. "The law is not designed to serve the patients, it's designed around creating marijuana and possessing it."
    The issue of reimbursement continues to plague dispensaries, Morris said. The law allows patients to give growers money to cover the basic costs of growing marijuana. Anything beyond that is illegal.
    The bill moving through Salem won't do anything to curb illegal sales that are occurring under the guise of the OMMP, Morris said.
    "Oregon marijuana shows up all over the country," Morris said. "This bill just provides a small amount of regulation for dispensaries. It does nothing about the growers and what they choose to do with their marijuana."
    Morris believes that marijuana should be managed like pharmaceutical drugs. He says marijuana is not taken seriously because the OMMP does not place any quality standards on particular strains of marijuana.
    He also blames many who advocate for medical cannabis.
    "A lot of these people are knowingly not following the law, and when they get busted, they hide behind patients," Morris said.
    Morris did not comment on the situation surrounding the Jackson County dispensary raids.
    "I don't know what was occurring down there," he said. "I'm not commenting on any individual person."
    Until the misinformation surrounding medical marijuana is remedied, raids such as the ones on May 23 will continue, Morris said.
    Meanwhile, Lori Duckworth is left with a dispensary that cannot distribute medical cannabis. She is left waiting for the Jackson County District Attorney's Office to provide discovery to her lawyer about what evidence the state plans to bring against she and her husband in court.
    "I don't know what the future holds at this point," she said.
    Reach reporter Chris Conrad at 541-776-4471 or cconrad@mailtribune.com.
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