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Appeals court upholds ruling

MEDFORD — A federal appeals court has ruled that carrying a weapon while growing marijuana is a crime in itself.

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the conviction of a Medford-area man who argued that keeping a .45 caliber semiautomatic pistol within reach while sleeping in a tent at a marijuana operation was not a separate crime.

Somkhit Thongsy was charged with possession of a firearm in furtherance of a felony after U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration agents raided a large marijuana farm in the Wolf Creek area on July 31, 2007.

In an opinion written by Judge Sandra S. Ikuta, the appeals court ruled Monday that evidence the pistol was part of the drug operation was overwhelming, and it was not used for hunting or kept in the tent by accident.

The opinion noted that when DEA agents raided the property, three men were arrested and each of the three "had easy access" to three weapons found in the tent they were sleeping in.

The raid netted 8,918 marijuana plants with an estimated value of $6.6 million, as well as a variety of equipment and supplies for growing plants.

A DEA agent testified that the three weapons — two pistols and an assault rifle — were not suitable for hunting. Ikuta's ruling noted that the evidence indicated that Thongsy's firearm was "strategically located to protect Thongsy, his cohorts and the $6.6 million marijuana operation" and that the evidence was "overwhelming" that Thongsy's possession of the weapon was directly related to the drug crime.

Thongsy was charged with six felonies, including manufacturing marijuana, being a felon in possession of a firearm and using a firearm in committing a felony. He was convicted on four of the six counts.