Federal agents raid medical marijuana plot

GOLD HILL — An insurance agent whose rental homes were searched by dozens of federal agents said Thursday that he made sure the 20 people he allowed to grow medical marijuana on his property had checked out under Oregon's medical marijuana law.

But that didn't stop the Tuesday raid in which 30 agents broke down doors on his five houses in the southern Oregon town of Gold Hill, pointed guns at his wife, ripped out hundreds of plants and seized shotguns, cell phones and a tractor, said Keith Rogers.

He said that if state drug officials had searched the property, "they would have happily drove off and did nothing."

But he said "it was strictly (the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration). They are throwing their weight around and saying the voters of Oregon don't have any rights."

The federal agency referred comment to the U.S. Attorney's office in Portland, which did not respond to calls and emails from The Associated Press. The raid was first reported by KTVL-TV in Medford.

The search appeared to conform to guidance offered in U.S. Department of Justice memos directing federal agents to enforce drug laws, even in states that have legalized medical marijuana. A June 29 memo signed by Deputy Attorney General James M. Cole clarified guidance in such states, saying that federal agents should not waste their time on individuals such as cancer patients using medical marijuana.

But it said "prosecution of significant traffickers of illegal drugs, including marijuana, remains a core priority."

Allen St. Pierre of the National Organization to Legalize Marijuana said federal agents regularly bust medical marijuana growing sites in California and Washington.

"They have an unspoken rule they tend to employ," St. Pierre said from Washington, D.C. "They are really looking for anything over 100 plants. If it is below 100 plants, it does not invite civil forfeiture the way large patches do."

The search warrant that agents left with Rogers showed aerial photos of his property with distinctive round circles in regular rows that often indicate marijuana gardens. About 200 plants can be seen in the photo.

Oregon law allows a grower to have six plants or 24 ounces of processed marijuana for each of up to four patients. It would mean that the total maximum amount allowed for all 20 growers would be 480 plants.

That amount would cover the 472 that federal agents alleged was on the property, even though grower James Anderson said the real number was closer to 200. Rogers said agents seized paperwork verifying that people growing on his property were within the law.

"We poked the bear," Anderson said as he stood in a guard tower and looked down at the churned earth that remained of the garden. "When you poke the bear, he come after you."

Anderson, who also lives with his wife and two children on the property, said he had just put his 6-year-old son on the school bus and returned to bed with his wife and the baby when "the dog went off." He went to the door and found federal agents, who handcuffed him and his wife outside the house.

A neighbor was hauled outside in her bra and panties and handcuffed in view of the freeway nearby, he said. No one was arrested.

He said he did not see the search warrant until he was released and found a copy left inside.

Anderson said he made $15 an hour laying sewer pipes for new housing subdivisions until the housing collapse. He accepts donations from patients he grew for but did not demand payment, which is prohibited by state law. Otherwise, he supports his family on odd jobs, some from his patients.

James Bowman, who oversees a medical marijuana plantation that grows for more than 100 plants in nearby Jacksonville, said he was always nervous that federal agents could target his operation.

"We are basically doing civil disobedience against the federal government by doing what we are doing," he said.

Rogers, 58, said he had been considering allowing the land to go into foreclosure, because he was having trouble renting the houses on the property, until he allowed one renter to grow medical marijuana. Then he allowed all five renters, as well as others, to grow on the property.

"It was agree to what was going on, or let the bank have the property back," he said. "I'm just a guy trying to keep my property. I'm just certain this is gonna push me into bankruptcy."

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