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Medical marijauna grower sentenced to jail

A Medford medical marijuana grower who had one plant beyond his legal limit plus more than a dozen guns has been sentenced to 50 days in the Jackson County Jail.

Thomas William Merriman, 54, of the 2000 block of Hondeleau Lane, pleaded guilty Thursday to felony charges of unlawful manufacture of marijuana, unlawful delivery of marijuana for consideration and being a felon in possession of a firearm. He also forfeited $234 in cash.

Merriman was not allowed to possess guns because of a felony conviction for unlawful manufacture of a controlled substance stemming from a 2006 U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration case, according to an affidavit by the Medford Area Drug and Gang Enforcement team.

Merriman was a registered Oregon Medical Marijuana Program patient and a grower for seven additional patients. Under Oregon law, he was allowed to have 48 plants — six plants per patient, including himself.

MADGE began investigating Merriman in March 2015 and used an informant to make several marijuana purchases from him. In August 2015, MADGE obtained a search warrant for Merriman's property on the outskirts of Medford, the affidavit said.

MADGE, the DEA, Homeland Security Investigations and the FBI served the warrant and seized 49 mature marijuana plants. The plants were measured, photographed and later destroyed. Officers found scales, packaging and 13 guns, the affidavit said.

Merriman allegedly admitted to selling marijuana to support his lifestyle and said he sold medical marijuana for profit. He was arrested and taken to jail, the affidavit said.

John Howry, Merriman's defense attorney, said the investigation and arrest amounted to overkill.

"It was a months-long investigation. They thought he was a big fish, but he wasn't," Howry said.

Merriman allegedly had bragged about selling marijuana to out-of-state buyers for $1,000 per pound, which is part of what triggered the investigation, prosecutors said.

Howry said a request had been submitted to have Merriman's 2006 felony drug conviction expunged, and Merriman mistakenly believed that had been granted and he was allowed to possess guns.

One of the guns found by investigators was a loaded .357 revolver recovered from Merriman's nightstand, according to the Jackson County District Attorney's Office.

Merriman said he had many hunting guns.

A separate but related case in which Merriman allegedly threatened to kill a witness was dismissed Thursday as he entered guilty pleas in the marijuana and gun possession case.

Merriman had faced two felony counts of tampering with a witness and two misdemeanor charges of menacing. An indictment accused Merriman of attempting to induce a witness to withhold testimony by threatening to kill the witness.

Merriman said the witness was a friend and marijuana trimmer who helped law enforcement in the investigation.

"They set me up," Merriman said.

Howry said there was no evidence Merriman threatened to kill the witness.

Jackson County Circuit Judge David Hoppe, a former prosecutor, said the case highlights the dangers and risks of growing marijuana.

"I think this whole growing marijuana thing is dangerous," he said.

Hoppe said Merriman was growing a dangerously large number of marijuana plants and was in possession of weapons.

"When guns are involved, people are going to die," Hoppe said.

Since Oregon voters legalized recreational marijuana with the passage of Measure 91 in 2014, more people have become marijuana growers, with Southern Oregon considered a prime growing area. Medical marijuana was already legal in the state.

Hoppe predicted an increasing number of dangerous scenarios related to marijuana grows and weapons.

"This is the beginning of the beginning," he said.

Merriman said he doesn't know if he will ever be a medical marijuana grower again.

His defense attorney said Merriman will be on probation for three years and will not be allowed to have contact with drugs as a condition of his probation during that time. After serving his probation, Merriman could become a grower again.

Staff reporter Vickie Aldous can be reached at 541-776-4486 or valdous@mailtribune.com. Follow her at www.twitter.com/VickieAldous.