High times in Oregon, or are they?

Oregon medical marijuana has been in the news a lot lately. With the growing expansion of dispensary-like "cannabis cafes," cannabis-related eateries, and medical marijuana's prominence as a hot-button issue in the Democratic campaign for state attorney general, public acceptance of the growing presence of medical marijuana in the community appears to be at an all-time high.

Recent legal news on the federal front, however, should temper any belief that the days of criminalization are nearing an end. As noted in the Oregonian, federal authorities recently arrested six people in Southwestern Oregon for allegedly growing far more marijuana than was authorized under Oregon's Medical Marijuana Act and conspiring to sell the excess out-of-state on the black market.

Under Oregon's law, medical marijuana users can grow their own medicine or choose to have an authorized caregiver grow it for them. Both patients and caregivers are subject to strict limits on the number of plants in their gardens and the amount of usable marijuana they may possess. It is unlawful to sell medical marijuana, even to patients, in Oregon, although caregivers are allowed to recover some of their production costs.

While the U.S. Attorney for Oregon maintains she is sending a message to those who are using the medical marijuana program as a screen for their unlawful activities, it remains true that any growing, production, distribution or even possession of marijuana remains a federal crime. Thus, even medical marijuana patients and growers who are in full compliance with the Oregon Act are in violation of federal law and may find themselves swept up in a federal prosecution.

Federal law with regard to marijuana can be draconian. In the case of marijuana cultivation, there are 5 and 10-year mandatory minimum sentences triggered by only 100 and 1000 plants respectively. Additionally, while legitimate medical marijuana growers will likely have no prior criminal history and otherwise be eligible for relief from the mandatory minimums under federal "safety valve" provisions, this may not always be the case.

For example, under federal law, it is a separate criminal offense to possess a firearm in connection with another federal offense. The otherwise lawful possession of a firearm can also be used to deny a first time offender "safety valve" relief from a marijuana cultivation mandatory minimum.

Many otherwise law-abiding persons in Oregon possess firearms, both for self-defense and recreational purposes. The news is also filled with stories lately of medical marijuana growers being robbed for their medicine. It doesn't stretch the imagination to see that some Oregon medical marijuana growers may keep firearms openly and notoriously to discourage would-be thieves.

Additionally federal civil and criminal property forfeiture laws can be applied aggressively against persons being investigated and charged in federal court. Personal property, real estate, bank accounts, business property and cash can all be seized in advance of trial.

The point is that, particularly where firearms are concerned, one's legitimate involvement in Oregon's medical marijuana program can have dramatic and unintended consequences in federal court. Anyone engaged in the program should do themselves a favor and seek out a comprehensive legal evaluation of their potential legal risks and liabilities from a qualified Oregon federal defense attorney.


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