Feds strike medical pot growers
August 02, 2007
Nick Budnick, Portland Tribune (OR)
A secret federal grand jury is duking it out with the state of Oregon to obtain the confidential records of some medical marijuana patients, the Portland Tribune has learned.
The ongoing grand jury probe has included a federal Drug Enforcement Administration raid on the home of one of Portland’s most high-profile medical pot activists, Don DuPay.
“They threatened to arrest me if I did not cooperate with their federal investigation,” DuPay, a former Portland police detective, candidate for Multnomah County sheriff and longtime co-host of the cable access show “Cannabis Common Sense,” said, recounting his faceoff with the lead DEA agent during the raid.
“I was probably carrying a homicide detective badge before this punk was born,” added DuPay, who is 71. “I said, ‘As far as I’m concerned, you’re a baldheaded punk.’ ”
At press time, DuPay had not been arrested. But he said that on June 14 the feds seized growing equipment, guns and surveillance cameras as well as marijuana that he said he had been growing for 40 patients registered by the Oregon Medical Marijuana Program.
The clash between the state and the federal governments reflects tensions inherent in Oregon’s medical marijuana law, which was approved by 55 percent of voters in 1998. While state and local law enforcement are required to obey the law, the feds are not.
“From a federal standpoint, there is no such thing as medical marijuana,” said Bernie Hobson, spokesman for the DEA’s Seattle regional office.
The grand jury is being operated by the U.S. attorney’s branch office in Yakima, Wash., in cooperation with a branch office of the DEA in that city.
“I’m aware of the case you’re talking about, yes, sir,” Hobson said when contacted by the Portland Tribune. “Unfortunately, I’m not able to talk about pending investigations.”
The federal government reportedly has issued confidential legal demands, called subpoenas, for patient information from both Oregon’s medical marijuana program and the Hemp and Cannabis Foundation, a group that employs doctors who prescribe marijuana to patients under the Oregon program.
Contacted by the Portland Tribune, the foundation’s Portland spokesman, Paul Stanford, said he’d been asked not to comment. But in a blog entry on his MySpace page, he wrote that the foundation received the federal subpoena on April 10. It demanded all medical and other documentation for 17 people in Oregon and Washington state.
The subpoena said: “You are required not to disclose the existence of this request. Any such disclosure could impede the investigation being conducted and thereby interfere with the enforcement of the law,” Stanford wrote.
“I believe this requirement violates my right to free speech,” he added. “We shall fight against this subpoena and for patients using medical marijuana until we prevail.”
The foundation has retained an American Civil Liberties Union lawyer, Graham Boyd, director of the group’s Drug Law Reform Project, to quash the subpoena.
According to knowledgeable sources, attorneys for the state of Oregon have joined the foundation in court to quash the federal government’s demand.
A federal judge reportedly has taken the matter under advisement after a hearing Wednesday afternoon at which attorneys for the state made their arguments by speakerphone.
Asked to comment, state spokeswoman Bonnie Widerburg said, “We are conferring with legal counsel, and I can’t say anything at this time.”
Thousands hold cards
DuPay is perhaps best known for his unsuccessful run last year for Multnomah County sheriff. As incumbent Bernie Giusto’s main opponent, he garnered more than 29,000 votes, more than were cast for then-incumbent county Chairwoman Diane Linn.
Now, DuPay said, he believes the Oregon marijuana program should be doing more to protect his patients and help him do battle with the federal government.
“Somebody in state government better do something about this, or I’ll run for governor,” he said.
Proponents of the 1998 ballot measure initially said that several hundred patients needed the program. Today, according to the Web page of the state program, 14,868 patients hold cards issued by the program. Another 7,115 “caregivers” hold cards for those patients, meaning they are authorized to grow marijuana under the state program.
While some local cops point to the ballooning figures as evidence that the program is being abused, advocates say they prove that medical marijuana works.
The DEA generally has taken a hands-off stance toward the Oregon program, leaving patients and small-scale growers alone, while reserving the right to enforce federal anti-drug laws as it sees fit.
Asked whether the subpoena and raid on DuPay signified a new policy, Hobson declined to comment. But, he said: “What I can tell you in general terms (is that) the DEA’s stance on medical marijuana hasn’t changed any with respect to Oregon. … Marijuana is not viewed as medicine, period.”
DuPay said the feds seized 135 plants at his home in east Portland’s Glenfair neighborhood and also raided four smaller grows that he maintains with a partner elsewhere.
The state allows each patient to have six mature plants as well as 18 younger ones. Caregivers can maintain that many plants for each patient they supply.
Raid worries patients
Local cops regularly come across grow operations by registered caregivers, said Pat Walsh of the Portland Police Bureau’s Drugs and Vice Division. He said he’d never come across a caregiver who grew for more than six registered patients.
Told that DuPay claims to grow for 40 registered patients, Walsh said, “That’s amazing to me.”
Three of DuPay’s patients told the Portland Tribune that the federal raid was bad news for them. Two said they donate $35 to DuPay for every eighth of an ounce of marijuana they consume, to defray expenses for electricity and supplies.
Rhonda Thomas, 51, said that she suffers from end-stage liver disease, and that marijuana helps with the insomnia caused by many of her medicines.
“I can’t grow medicine where I’m at because it’s not allowed,” she said. “So it’s good to have a caregiver who’s honest.”
Keith Patzer, 38, said he is partly paralyzed in his lower body and suffers from spasms and cramping that the marijuana helps ease.
“Regular conventional medicine doesn’t do all the stuff that it’s supposed to do,” he said.
Jon Kappelman, who rents a room from DuPay, said he also suffers from liver disease as well as the aftereffects of car and motorcycle accidents that shattered his pelvis and restricted him to a wheelchair.
“My whole leg is nothing but screws and plates,” he said, adding that he’s “furious” about the federal raid.
Kappelman said marijuana eases the nausea from his other medications and allows him to eat.
DuPay, who said he has degenerative hip disease and hepatitis C, believes the Yakima DEA office’s interest in him stems from information provided by his own registered caregiver, Vincent Trulson, who maintains residences in Portland and Goldendale, Wash.
DuPay and his son, Lee, said the DEA told them that Trulson had fingered him for the raid, claiming DuPay was selling pot to nonpatients.
“That’s a lie,” DuPay said.