Oregon's US Attorney: Traffickers infiltrate medical pot

Oregon's US Attorney: Traffickers infiltrate medical pot
The U.S. Attorney for Oregon, Amanda Marshall discusses her views on medical marijuana during an interview Friday, May 18, 2012, in Portland. The proliferation of dispensary-style medical marijuana operations in Oregon concerns the state’s new U.S. Attorney, but she said she’s unwilling to devote much time or money to prosecuting a criminal activity that’s low on her list of priorities. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) - The proliferation of dispensary-style medical marijuana operations in Oregon concerns the state's new U.S. Attorney, and she said drug trafficking organizations have made headway into the state's medicinal marijuana system.

U.S. Attorney Amanda Marshall said the number of dispensaries in Oregon has been growing. Her office estimates the state hosts at least 100, most of which are in the Portland metro area.

"Pounds and pounds and pounds of marijuana are being shipped out of Oregon, not to sick people needing cards but to drug dealers who are selling it, who are laundering money, who are evading taxes," she said, "and it's dangerous business."

Marshall said her office has tracked marijuana shipments to Tennessee, Arkansas and Florida, among other states.

In 2010, Marshall's predecessor joined his counterparts in other medical marijuana states by sending warning letters to operations it felt were the most egregious offenders of the state's medical marijuana law, threatening them — or their landlords — with civil asset forfeiture if they didn't close shop.

The problem, Marshall said, is that Oregon's medical marijuana law was passed without any enforcement power or extra money for local agencies to crack down on the worst actors.

"I don't know that the law itself is the problem, so much as the lack of oversight in terms of the medical marijuana grows and distribution," Marshall said Friday in an interview with The Associated Press. "When you look at it, you've (had) a handful of prosecutions and you've got over 100 dispensaries, there's no oversight.

"They passed this law, and there's no additional resources or funding mechanisms for law enforcement."

Medical marijuana took center stage in Oregon politics last week when it emerged as a flashpoint in the Democratic primary for state attorney general.

Former interim U.S. Attorney Dwight Holton had criticized the state program as a "train wreck," mobilizing marijuana advocates to lobby against him. It's impossible to tell whether the issue played a role in Holton's loss to retired judge Ellen Rosenblum, but it accounted for at least a quarter of Rosenblum's fundraising.

Marshall said she wouldn't use the words "train wreck" to describe Oregon's law.

"I'm not here to say this law is good or bad or to suggest future legislation or future policy direction," said Marshall, who took office in October. "People say, 'You're the U.S. attorney, are you going to go after medical marijuana?' No I'm not."

The state's law, passed in 1998, allows patients to possess 24 ounces of marijuana.

In 2010, Oregon voters rejected a ballot measure that would have legalized California-style dispensaries. Cannabis club owners say their properties aren't dispensaries but safe havens for cannabis users to obtain and use the medicine they would otherwise have to grow themselves, have grown for them or buy on the black market. They say marijuana available at cannabis clubs often comes from authorized growers who donate it.

To Marshall, the threat isn't from cancer patients growing plants in their window boxes for personal consumption. Rather, it's drug trafficking operations that move bales of marijuana from Oregon and California's fertile growing climate to the East Coast, where it retails for $5,000 per pound.

Voters didn't know what they would get when they approved the law in 1998, Marshall said. They approved six plants per patient, believing the yields would be sufficient for personal consumption, she said.

"People weren't thinking about the plants that we saw pulled out of the ground in Southern Oregon that produced 10 pounds of manicured, smokable marijuana bud," Marshall said. "These people are master gardeners.

"I wish I could grow tomatoes like that."

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