PORTLAND, Ore. – The state is giving convicted drug dealers licenses to grow pot – even next to a school – under Oregon's medical marijuana law.
We uncovered the problem while following federal agents engaged in a widespread crime sweep this summer.
Take the case of 43-year-old James Tubbs: He was convicted of manufacturing and distributing marijuana in Texas and was wanted for 11 years for the same crime in Oregon.
Police tracked him in August to a southwest Portland home, where they found dozens of marijuana plants in the basement. But, according to police, all 92 plants were legal.
That's because the Oregon Department of Human Services approved Tubbs as a medical marijuana grower for several patients, even though he was wanted on drug charges.
While police arrested Tubbs, he faces no new charges for the plants he was growing in the home.
He told KATU News he wasn't aware he was wanted.
Up to police to enforce laws?
When asked about cases like Tubbs', Oregon's medical marijuana program manager, Tawana Nichols, said it is up to police to monitor growers and enforce laws.
"That is outside of our program to try to track if they are abusing the law," Nichols said. "Our focus (is) on registering the patients."
According to the latest DHS records, there are nearly 15,000 medical marijuana users in the state and more than 7,000 certified growers.
A law that went into effect in January 2006 says medical marijuana grower applicants with drug convictions can only be denied cards if they have been convicted of a violation after the date the law took effect.
And because Tubbs was wanted in Oregon and not convicted after Jan. 1, 2006, his applications to grow pot for several medical marijuana card holders were approved. That gave him the right to grow dozens of marijuana plants and possess several pounds of dried marijuana.
There are other cases where certified growers are suspected of abusing the law.
A dilemma for police
In September, Salem police arrested three men after finding an illegal grow operation in the home of a state-approved medical marijuana grower.
Among other things, they confiscated 6 pounds of dried and packaged marijuana and 25 plants - more pot than the grower was legally approved to grow. They also found guns and cash.
"There is no compliance arm with this, and there's no central database," said Salem police Lt. Dave Okada.
He said it is a real dilemma. Growers' information is protected by DHS because growers are considered medical providers. But recent arrests show some growers are abusing the law.
"We've probably had 30 or 40 cases already this year where we've received calls on a particular location about marijuana activity," Okada said. "We go out there, and it's somebody who's engaged in, who has a certified card."
But there are other concerns about those "legal" grow operations.
In one case, a man was growing pot in a garden right next to the student parking lot of McNary High School.
"My concern is ... , as an educator, for the safety and well-being of the kids," said Chuck Lee, a Salem-Keizer School Board member. "And when you've got marijuana being grown right next to a parking lot where kids are visible and can smell it, I think that we need to do something about it."
The grower, Anthony Beasley, is another convicted felon and certified medical marijuana grower.
In his garage, investigators found PVC pipes filled with marijuana, which is part of a process used to make hash oil - an illegal drug not protected under Oregon's medical marijuana law.
A grand jury decided not to indict Beasley.
Just isolated incidents?
While DHS admits that some, like Tubbs and Beasley, have prior convictions, they say most growers abide by the law. They add that the medical marijuana growers program is not broken.
"We have a system that we verify. We have people. We have staff that review the charts, the records that come in, and that seems to work fine," said Nichols, the medical marijuana program's administrator.
But the state does not share its information on growers with police so they can monitor those who might be breaking the law.
Police are concerned about how many convicted drug dealers are certified growers in the program, and how can they police those who use one law to help them break another law?
To learn more about Oregon's Medical Marijuana Program, click here.