Two face terms today on medical marijuana

July 28, 2005

Sarah Hunsberger, The Oregonian

OREGON CITY -- Two medical marijuana growers, including one who told police that Jesus called him to "grow the herb" for sick people, will be sentenced today in a case that highlights ambiguities in Oregon's medical marijuana law.

Shawn Flury, 44, and David Thomas Howard, 51, this month joined the ranks of growers convicted on felony drug charges for violating the state's medical marijuana law at their Clackamas County greenhouse.

"The whole thing is a morass," Clackamas County Circuit Judge Ronald Thom said of the medical marijuana law during the trial.

As the men are sentenced today, the state is preparing to change the law so it is easier for police to interpret and harder for criminals to exploit.

More than 11,000 Oregonians hold state registration cards that authorize them to use medical marijuana. They have the option of growing their marijuana or designating someone else, called a "caregiver," to do it for them.

State lawmakers tried unsuccessfully to modify the law during the 2003 Legislature. They agreed to some changes in the waning hours of the 2005 session, approving Senate Bill 1085 with bipartisan support. The changes take effect Jan. 1.

Sgt. Joel Lujan of the Oregon State Police Drug Enforcement Section said the changes will make it easier for police, growers and patients to know what's legal and what's not.

"There was a lot of room for interpretation, and now it's clear-cut," Lujan said.

The changes include more specific limits on the number of plants a patient can possess, clearer definitions of a seedling and a mature plant, and stricter requirements for registering grow sites.

Lawmakers also approved a drastic increase in the one ounce of marijuana a registered patient can now possess away from a grow site. Patients or caregivers will be allowed more than a pound after the changes take effect. The law also states explicitly that the marijuana is the property of the patient.

The logic was to bring the limits more in line with typical yields from marijuana plants, which can produce multiple ounces of usable marijuana at a time, said Rep. Jeff Kruse, R-Roseburg, who co-sponsored the bill.

The larger possession limits are aimed at deterring designated growers from selling or misusing surplus marijuana.

"There's a certain criminal element that has determined and found out that patients are very easy targets," said Jerry Wade, who represents the Stormy Ray Cardholders' Foundation, a patient advocacy group named for one of the chief petitioners for the 1998 ballot measure that made medical marijuana legal in Oregon.

Advisory panel will act

 

The changes to the law also will set up an advisory committee to review the rules of the Oregon Medical Marijuana Program and require the state Department of Human Services to develop a 24-hour system for law enforcement to confirm that a person's use or possession is legal.

The changes also clamp down on large-scale growing operations.

"The whole concept behind this is a person helping a person," Kruse said. "It's not supposed to become this mass production sort of thing."

Under the current law, there is no limit on the size of a medical marijuana growing operation. The new law limits a third-party grow site to supplying four card-carrying patients.

Police seized more than 100 plants in a May 2004 raid when they arrested Flury and Howard. The men told police all the plants were for card-carrying medical marijuana patients.

Although some patients had registered with the greenhouse, there weren't enough registered cardholders to account for the number of plants.

Thom said he thought the men had "good intentions," but he found them guilty of drug manufacturing and possession charges last week. They were cleared of delivery of a controlled substance.

Sarah Hunsberger: 503-294-5922; shunsberger@news.oregonian.com



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