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Feds come down hard again on licensed pot growers

CENTRAL POINT — For the second time in as many weeks, federal Drug Enforcement Administration agents have rolled into Jackson County to haul away dump trucks full of medical marijuana.

DEA agents, with assistance from various local law enforcement agencies, on Wednesday trucked away at least four large dump truck loads of marijuana from a property on East Gregory Road east of Central Point.

The property belongs to Brian Simmons, who is a medical marijuana provider. In addition, Simmons grows vegetables and hops on the property, said Lori Duckworth, the executive director of Southern Oregon NORML, a medical marijuana resource center in Medford.

The farm, which is in the 300 block of East Gregory Road, is the second Rogue Valley farm to be served a federal search warrant in a week. DEA agents also raided a large medical marijuana farm Sept. 27 on Old Stage Road in Gold Hill where more than 400 plants were seized.

Duckworth said she toured the property three weeks ago and said the marijuana garden was within state guidelines for plants allowed per patient. The site is less than a mile north of the Medford airport and about a half-mile east of Table Rock Road.

Duckworth said 22 patients who receive medical marijuana from the East Gregory Road garden are members of SONORML.

"Counting the previous raid, we now have 30 patients who will be without their medicine," she said.

Gerri Badden, a spokeswoman with the U.S. Attorney's Office, would only confirm that there was a federal search warrant issued in Central Point. She did say that the warrant has been sealed by a district judge and that the search warrant from last week's raid remains sealed as well.

Badden sent an email to the Mail Tribune outlining the position federal prosecutors have taken on the Oregon Medical Marijuana Program, or OMMP.

The document states, "Marijuana grown under the guise of the Oregon Medical Marijuana Program (OMMP) is increasingly being sold on the black market — in Oregon and throughout the United States."

The document goes on to say that much of the black market marijuana appearing across the country comes from Oregon medical marijuana farms.

The U.S. Department of Justice believes the excess marijuana grown in Oregon's medical gardens is packaged and shipped to states in the Midwest and the East Coast for large profits.

About 30 law enforcement officials with various federal, state and local agencies served a warrant at a large cooperative medical marijuana garden on Old Stage Road in Gold Hill on Sept. 27. A handful of providers grow for people with marijuana cards at the site.

Officers chopped down more than 300 plants there and hauled them away in dump trucks. The growers contend that they were within the limits imposed upon them by Oregon's medical marijuana laws.

No charges have been filed in the case, though it remains under investigation, according to the U.S. Attorney's Office in Medford.

Duckworth said she has known Simmons for years and does not believe he would be involved in the illegal drug trade.

"I just don't see him being an unethical grower who feeds the black market," Duckworth said.

She said the East Gregory Road property houses a cooperative garden much like the one that was raided in Gold Hill.

"I think the thing we are learning is not to have more than 100 plants in one place, even though that is legal under state law," Duckworth said.

In 2009, officials within the Obama administration said they would not allocate resources to prosecuting medical marijuana providers. However, raids also have been reported in dispensaries in California and Washington state in recent months, according to The Associated Press.

Following the Gold Hill raid last week, a spokesman for the National Organization to Legalize Marijuana said the group believes that federal agents are not interested in pursuing medical marijuana users or small growers, but that any operation of 100 plants or more was at risk of being raided.

Reach reporter Chris Conrad at 541-776-4471 or email cconrad@mailtribune.com.

A backhoe removes marijuana plants from a farm field north of the Medford airport Wednesday after Drug Enforcement Administration agents and local police officers raided Brian's Green Thumb Farm in the 300 block of East Gregory Road near Central Point. Bob Pennell / Mail Tribune photo - Bob Pennell