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Medical Cannabis Advocacy on Trial in Oregon; Salem Man Arrested In 2002 After Plants Found

Robert Gray (right) and volunteer Sonny Watkins (center) educate a citizen at MERCY on Fairgrounds Rd. in Salem. The purpose of the Center is to assist those either seeking to get into the program and/or (once they have their card) medicine and other minor details that are involved.

The trial of Robert Gray, a leader in Salemís medical marijuana movement, began Monday morning, June 9th, 2003 at the Marion County courthouse in Salem, Oregon. It ended the same day.

Gray, 38, co-founder and director of the Medical Cannabis Resource Center, or MERCY, was charged with manufacture, possession and distribution of a controlled substance. He has since been found guilty, sentenced and has begun serving a 40-plus months term. (click here for contact info) Paul Ferder, Gray's attorney, said with good behavior and boot camp, Gray may only serve nine months. Since Gray did not have to admit guilt, though Ochoa found him guilty, Ferder can pursue an appeal. Meanwhile, Mr. Gray also intends to sue Marion County.

Mr. Gray is a local area businessman and patient in the Oregon Medical Marijuana Program. Born in Salem, the Sprague H.S. graduate owns and operates Rough House Furnishings at 1695 Fairgrounds Road in Salem. <Visit http://www.pdxnorml.org/biz/RHouse>.

He, along with other patients, caregivers and concerned citizens formed MERCY in the spring of 2002. The purpose is to get medicine to patients in the short-term while working with them to establish their own independent sources.

MERCY is a not-for-profit, grass roots organization founded by patients and other compassionate and concerned citizens in the area and dedicated to helping and advocating for those involved with the Oregon Medical Marijuana Program (OMMP). They advocate reasonable, fair and effective marijuana laws and policies, and strive to educate, register and empower voters to implement such policies. Their goal is independence for their Patient Members in the short term and freedom for the rest of us by ending cannabis prohibition. To this end they provide, among other things, ongoing education to clinics, individual physicians and other healthcare providers about the OMMP, cannabis as medicine and doctor rights in general.

During the past year MERCY, led by Mr. Gray, has assisted a number of people in getting into the OMMP as well as helping them find access to excess medicine. Through the above actions, MERCY intends to build a volunteer base for constant recruitment & administration of the organization for the future. Through marketing and communications they hope to coordinate with business and organizations to make a lasting, positive change in the community.

Sonny Watkins, co-founder, who led a prayer circle outside the courthouse on Monday before the trial, said he started the Medical Cannabis Resource Center with Gray because it was so difficult for patients to grow and get their medicine.

"I got ripped off, I got used and abused," said Watkins, a caregiver and cardholder in the OMMP.

Joe Salazar, who uses medical marijuana for Spina Bifida, a neural tube defect, said he had to designate another caregiver after Johnson (Mr. Grays co-defendant) was busted.

"All it did is put another obstacle on top of the one I already had," Salazar said. "It's not a drug. We look at it as medication."

The Case

The Marion Area Gang and Narcotics Enforcement Team (MAGNET) allege that on March 8, 2002 to have found 37 marijuana plants at 1695 Fairgrounds Road NE, Salem, and a pound (16 ounces) of dried marijuana at a second location. They're search was justified, they say, after making 2 controlled buys through Mr. Gray. The second location was a personal residence where a friend of Mr. Gray's was staying. Mr. Gray was out of town attending his grandfather's funeral at the time. Officers also claim to have found packaging materials and scales, at the residence.

The medical cannabis aspects of the case are complicated. Gray states he was growing for about a half-dozen patients (allowing him 42 plants), including himself. Oregon law also allows a doctor to prescribe a larger number of plants (more than 7) for a patient. Patients had designated one location for their plants, but did not register with the state, relying on the provision that one has 30 days within which to give notice of a change to the state. Additionally, it typifies the problem with the OMMA relating to cultivating and harvesting (vs. growing and picking).

OMMA allows a 30-day grace period to complete the application process. The law allows a card holding patient or his designated caregiver as much as seven plants - three mature and four immature and as much as seven ounces of dry marijuana. There can be 1 ounce per mature plant at the grow site. State law allows a caregiver to have multiple patients, so there could be several grows at a site. Patients and DPC's (Designated Patient Caregivers) can possess 1 ounce at any time. According to court documents, Gray said he was the caregiver for five cardholders other than himself. However, he didn't get to refer to the law in his trial.

So, although there was an informant who claimed to have made purchases, and 37 plants were seized, the charge that authorities ended up running with was for a pound of dried medicine - since it was at a location and technically in the possession of person/s not yet registered with the OMMP. Law enforcement officers say Gray was using the law as a front for illegal drug trafficking,

"He may be a cardholder and a caregiver, but our position is the facts of this case goes outside the facts of any medical marijuana evidence," said District Attorney Dale Penn.

The judge agreed and no mention of OMMP was allowed. On the day of the trial, the strategy of those in authority was to put all the pressure on Mr. Gray's friend who was at the location at the time. Denied his own strategy, and to save his friend, Mr. Gray struck a deal.

Gray and his supporters say he was the target of overzealous law enforcement efforts. Wendell Basye, assistant director of MERCY, called Gray's trial the epitome of a "witch hunt" mentality. Mr. Gray says he is within his rights as a medical marijuana cardholder and caregiver under the Oregon Medical Marijuana Act and should have had his say.

"I wanted to take it to the people. We believed in the people and would have won" said Gray.

Marijuana Jury Trial Bypassed; Judge Convicts Advocate For Medical Cannabis

So, fifteen months after Robert Gray was busted for manufacture, possession and distribution of marijuana, the director of the Medical Cannabis Resource Center in Salem finally had his day in court Monday. He just wasn't allowed to bring his rights along. Instead of the all-out fight for principle's sake that Gray swore he would wage, the medical marijuana card holder and provider waived his right to a jury trial.

Two dozen supporters, most wearing white T-shirts with a marijuana plant over a red cross, showed up to support Gray and co-defendant Linda Johnson. The media was alerted and present, prepared literature was being passed out to interested parties. The drug warriors panicked.

Anyone with a poster or sign was driven off, even outside the building. All logo decorated shirts were banned, even if turned inside out and a coat worn over it. Literature, people in wheel-chairs (due to their stickers?) and even water was banned. People were followed, even outside the building, and menaced by authority under the guise of "security issues". Fearing people were speaking to the media, private conversations were overseen and interrupted, saying it might unfairly affect the trail. Which wasn't being allowed anyway!

After being informed of their lack of strategic options, both defendants agreed to stipulated fact trials by Marion County Judge Joseph Ochoa. Thus, Gray was convicted by Ochoa.

"I had no choice," Gray said of his decision not to hold out for a jury trial. "He (Ochoa) wouldn't allow me to use medical marijuana as an affirmative defense. I didn't plea because I didn't commit the crime. I need to take it to the Supreme Court on appeal."

Johnson was convicted and sentenced to 18 months of probation, ordered to undergo an evaluation and possible drug treatment, cease being a care provider and stop associating with Gray during that period. Deputy District Attorney Katie Suver said that Johnson's sentence is appropriate.

"It has always been our position that this is not a case that involved medical marijuana," Suver said.

Johnson was emotionally distraught, even before the sentencing.

"I'm only a caregiver," said a teary Johnson, who tried to defend herself after firing her attorney that morning. He later represented her, after all. "I don't smoke it. I do it just to help someone out."

The drawn out legal affair had medical marijuana advocates worried about the fallout. DA Penn said during the case that law enforcement always has been concerned about those who use the medical marijuana law as a shield for illegal drug activities.

The Cause Goes On

Here in Oregon we have seen the number of State (OMMP) certified patients grow to over 4,000 and even law enforcement is admitting that the criminal problems they expected have not occurred. More and more health care professionals are being educated through personal experience with legal patients. They see patients who forgo harsh prescription drugs, the cost often paid by insurance, to use cannabis, which they find more effective. They see patients with improved health and mental attitudes. Family, friends and acquaintances of patients are also having their own educational experience as they too see the benefits of medicinal cannabis. As more patients become certified this process will only expand, and fewer cases like Mr. Grays will waste the courts resources.

Perry Stripling - editor, The MERCY Newz


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