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MailTribune.com
  • Medical marijuana is risky business in Medford

    Mary Jane’s Attic is home to the latest debate over Medford’s medical marijuana stance
  • Despite its tell-tale name, Mary Jane's Attic looks more like a clothing store to the casual observer, with its racks of sweaters, dresses, shirts and several display cases filled with jewelry.
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  • Despite its tell-tale name, Mary Jane's Attic looks more like a clothing store to the casual observer, with its racks of sweaters, dresses, shirts and several display cases filled with jewelry.
    Step into the back of Mary Jane's — slang for marijuana — and the space transforms into what looks like a candy store filled with dozens of jars of high-grade medical marijuana and edible pot products that are grown and made by caregivers and distributed to 1,400 patients, most of whom live in Medford.
    The marijuana has placed the business near WinCo on Barnett Road in the sights of Medford officials, who are trying to shut it down. The legal fight that's likely to ensue could have repercussions around the state.
    "We knew it was a risk when we opened it," said owner Richard Nuckols. "We've been trying to run it as a professional business."
    That professionalism has attracted medical marijuana patients who are lawyers, doctors, oncologists, teachers and professors looking for a legitimate source for their medicine, Nuckols says.
    He has purchased a gas chromatograph machine, which analyzes samples of the marijuana that are brought in to determine levels of the active ingredients — THC and cannabinoids — as well as to detect mold and pesticides.
    This kind of analysis, which is posted on jars of marijuana bearing names such as "Bubblegum" or "Blue Dream," will be required after March 3, when legally established pot clinics can dispense medical marijuana throughout the state under House Bill 3460.
    Nuckols said his dispensary turns away anyone who doesn't display a valid Oregon Medical Marijuana Program card. Patients reimburse a grower for the costs involved in growing the marijuana.
    His wife, Marlene, said pipes and other pot-related devices are kept behind a curtain so that it creates a welcoming atmosphere for families to walk around the store looking at other products.
    "A lot of the jewelry is made by patients," she said.
    The clothing and jewelry portion of the store is called Mary Jane's Attic, but the area where marijuana is provided to patients is called Mary Jane's Basement.
    The couple both use medical marijuana. Richard uses it for cluster headaches, while Marlene has fibromyalgia.
    Her husband said he believes the shop operates within the existing Oregon Medical Marijuana Act, helping it avoid the fate of other dispensaries that have been raided by Medford police.
    Apart from the name, Mary Jane's looks like any other store in a strip mall next to WinCo.
    "We've got a porn shop on one side of us, and a gun shop on the other side," Nuckols said.
    The city of Medford doesn't believe Mary Jane's follows the existing OMMA, however.
    City Attorney Keven McConnell said the city views Mary Jane's as operating illegally under Oregon laws as well as federal laws.
    Under the city's reading of the Oregon Medical Marijuana Act, certified caregivers should only provide marijuana to a specific cardholder.
    Mary Jane's distributes marijuana from any possible caregiver to any possible cardholder, which becomes permissible when House Bill 3460 takes effect on March 3, McConnell said.
    "They jumped the gun a little," he said.
    Medford police conducted four "controlled buys" at Mary Jane's last year. An undercover cop found Mary Jane's followed the correct procedures to make sure that medical marijuana cards are verified.
    However, police found there was no link between the grower of the marijuana and the patient, a situation the city believes is a violation of OMMA.
    District Attorney Beth Heckert declined to prosecute.
    She said the controlled buys occurred just prior to changes in marijuana laws in the state that would have made it very problematic to prosecute.
    "The marijuana issue has become much more complicated," she said.
    Despite the changes, earlier raids on other clinics in Medford are still being prosecuted, she said.
    The city of Medford also believes Mary Jane's is operating in violation of federal law, though federal officials have expressed an unwillingness to prosecute dispensaries that abide by state marijuana laws.
    Medford City Council has taken the issue one step further.
    Last September, the council passed an ordinance that prohibits issuing a business license if that business is violating federal law, specifically the sale or distribution of marijuana.
    The city has attempted to revoke Mary Jane's business license, and the Nuckols have vowed to appeal the revocation to the City Council, then to the courts, if necessary.
    The Nuckols have hired Leland Berger, a Portland lawyer who is well-known for taking on high-profile pot cases.
    Berger said he thinks the city is on shaky legal ground on a number of issues.
    He said Mary Jane's has been operating legally under OMMA and will also follow the rules set out by HB 3460.
    In addition, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder has made statements the federal government will not go after dispensaries that operate under state law.
    "The frustrating thing is the district attorney is not interested in us and the U.S. attorney general is not interested in us," Berger said. "Why isn't the city of Medford not interested in us?"
    Medford's attempt to ban marijuana dispensaries based on federal law will also backfire, Berger said.
    He said state law regarding marijuana clinics preempts local laws, although the city believes it has the right to enact local bans based on federal law.
    Berger said the case is similar to another one he worked on in Jackson County.
    Sheriff Mike Winters denied Cynthia Willis a concealed handgun license in 2008 on the grounds that she uses medical marijuana, which is considered a controlled substance by the federal government. The sheriff argued that he couldn't give the license to Willis because that would violate the Gun Control Act of 1968.
    Winters lost every court challenge, including an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.
    Berger said Mary Jane's has attempted to provide a safe access point for patients who want their medicine.
    "This is not a public safety issue — it's a health issue," he said. "There has been no increase in crime as a result of Mary Jane's."
    Rep. Peter Buckley, D-Ashland, said his understanding is that existing pot dispensaries throughout the state are not operating in a clearly legal manner.
    HB 3460, which Buckley co-sponsored, gets rid of the ambiguity and provides a set of rules that will ensure a high-quality product is provided to patients.
    "We're trying to get rid of the gray area and define what is permissible and what is not," he said.
    One of the patients who visits Mary Jane's, Justin Marbury, said he started using medical marijuana to treat his epilepsy and associated pain.
    The 24-year-old Medford resident said he has taken strong anti-seizure drugs but they leave him disoriented and don't always work.
    "Since October, I've been seizure free," he said. "If it wasn't for this place, there would be no access to medication to mitigate the pain."
    Reach reporter Damian Mann at 541-776-4476 or dmann@mailtribune.com. Follow him at www.twitter.com/reporterdm.
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