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Kerby dispensary vows to stay open

KERBY — Cheryl Keil said marijuana saved her husband, Jesse's, life, after a stroke 15 years ago left him partially paralyzed and suffering from depression.

They ventured from Idaho to the Illinois Valley, where an old friend had a pot garden.

"He started smoking marijuana daily. It made all the difference in the world in him wanting to live," Keil said. "It takes the edges off his pain. It saved his life."

This experience and others motivated Keil and Tony Smith of Cave Junction to open a medical marijuana dispensary in August next to the Kerby General Store. The name of the dispensary is Mainstreaming Our Medicine.

Framed on the wall, a couple of feet from a bong for smoking pot, is a license approved by the Oregon Health Authority, which manages the Oregon Medical Marijuana Program. They also opened another dispensary, Providing All Patients Access, a month ago in Cave Junction.

Keil and Smith's dispensaries, and one recently opened in Selma called Sacred Flower, are just three of more than 200 licensed by the state of Oregon since a new law allowing such businesses took effect in March. They're the only ones operating in Josephine County.

But in the legal whirlpool that is medical marijuana in Oregon, they have been told to stop operating, by the city of Cave Junction and by Josephine County.

Cave Junction officials have told them via certified letter their business license is now revoked, and they owe $300 a day in penalties. Keil's attorney filed a countersuit nine days ago. They do not plan to comply.

"I don't consider my license to be revoked, and I will stay open," a defiant Keil said this week. "They can threaten me all they want. They're not getting me out without a SWAT team. We've invested too much into this."

They've served more than 500 customers who purchased an average of 1 to 5 grams of marijuana, at $5 to $17 per gram, to ease headaches, arthritis pain, seizures and other maladies, say Keil and manager Brian Holsclaw. A gram is roughly the size of your thumb.

Patients with an Oregon medical marijuana card may legally purchase marijuana, or oil from the cannabis plant. And there are plenty of cardholders in Josephine County — 5,323 according to the OMMP, or 6.43 percent of the county's population. There are 69,429 cardholders statewide, or 1.7 percent of the population.

The city's letter to Keil and Smith came after a recent ruling by Circuit Court Judge Pat Wolke, in response to a suit against the state filed by the city of Cave Junction over the dispensary law.

Wolke, in a decision that made headlines around the region, ruled that the city can ban dispensaries, not just enact a moratorium. The marijuana dispensary law allows counties and cities to declare a one-year moratorium on dispensaries.

While Cave Junction hasn't banned them, after several debates in city council meetings, it pushed the lawsuit.

So far 26 of 36 counties in Oregon, including Josephine, and 146 cities and towns have enacted moratoriums. Yet dispensaries continue to be approved by the state, mostly in the more populated counties without moratoriums, such as Lane and Multnomah counties.

Keil and Smith's businesses have also received a cease-and-desist letter from Josephine County, according to County Commissioner Keith Heck.

"They are basically thumbing their nose," Heck said. "If citizens have no desire to respect it, or there is no capacity to enforce it, we're in a difficult situation.

"It's a commodity banned by the feds, yet allowed by state government . you try to figure out how to make it all add up."

Meanwhile, voters will decide on Nov. 4 whether to legalize recreational marijuana, which has already been done in Colorado and Washington.

"We're sort of treading water until November," Heck said. "If Measure 91 passes, it all becomes a moot point anyway."

Keil believes their legitimate businesses are being targeted, and that they fill a huge need. They paid $8,000 to the state for the two licenses, and are subject to inspections from a lab in Portland, which measures potency and tests for mold, pesticides and other contaminants.

That assures customers of what they're getting, Keil said.

"You can find 100 growers right down this strip of road," said Keil. "But you don't know what they're doing to their plants."

The dispensary uses computer software, Marijuana Freeway, that provides "transparency" in records, Holsclaw said.

Behind the counter and the dispensary is the computer and behind it a large black safe containing all the marijuana. The room in back is filled with pipes, marijuana edibles such as hard candy, puff treats or peanut brittle, along with T-shirts and other assorted merchandise.

They sell 10 or 11 strains of weed, and eight strains of marijuana oil, and have several sources of marijuana. Keil said payments to suppliers, all approved medical marijuana growers, range from $1,000 to $2,000 a pound.

The dispensary provides another benefit: an outlet for extra marijuana. "You always end up with more than you need when you're growing for yourself," Keil said.

"Our growers take great pride in their work," added Allen Knopsnyder, the "person responsible for" the facility. Under Oregon's dispensary law, a single individual known as the "PRF, or person responsible for" must be designated at each dispensary. That person is legally responsible for the dispensary.

Keil said at least half of their customers are older people. Many are veterans, some with post-traumatic stress disorder. None of them want to deal with growers who may or may not be licensed medical marijuana providers, or who may draw law enforcement attention, she said.

"A person needs to know if it's safe, what strain it is, the strength," Keil said. "We provide a safe environment for people to get their medicine."

Different strains have slightly different results. One female client has attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, Keil said.

"She can't have sativa, it makes her head go crazy," Keil said. "Indica settles her right down and makes her normal."

Keil said they'll ride out the roller coaster of the legal battles ahead.

"They let us invest all of our money and time and effort into it, and they're trying to snatch it away," she said, referring to the city's stance. "We're making history right now."

The recent court decision by Wolke did not address the primary argument of the lawsuit — the constitutional conflict between federal law banning marijuana in general and state law allowing patients to use it as medicine.

When Cave Junction Mayor Carl Jacobson was asked whether the city would attempt to collect the fines it imposed on Keil and Smith's dispensary business, he said, "We'll cross that bridge when we get to it."