Drug cops raided four Jackson County marijuana dispensaries Thursday, making four felony arrests and leaving behind a crowd of angry medical marijuana advocates and patients.
The sweep included three medical marijuana businesses in Medford and one in Gold Hill, Medford police Chief Tim George said.
"This was the product of a two-year investigation in which we developed information that illegal marijuana sales were occurring at these store fronts," George said.
The raids were conducted by officers assigned to the Medford Area Drug and Gang Enforcement (MADGE) team. The officers seized evidence from stores in Medford including SONORML on West Sixth Street, Puffin' Stuff on Crater Lake Avenue and The Green Compass on East McAndrews Road. In addition, officers raided The Compass on Second Avenue in Gold Hill.
Among those arrested was Lori Duckworth, 50, who is the executive director of the Southern Oregon chapter of the National Organization for Reform of Marijuana Laws, or SONORML.
Duckworth has been a vocal advocate for medical marijuana for several years. She was charged with 22 counts of conspiracy to deliver marijuana within 1,000 feet of a school. She was lodged in the Jackson County Jail on $550,000 bail.
Leland Arden Duckworth, 49, also of SONORML, was arrested on 22 counts of conspiracy to deliver marijuana within 1,000 feet of a school. He was lodged in the Jackson County Jail on $550,000 bail.
The school referenced in the charges is New Dimension Christian School on North Oakdale Avenue. George said the SONORML office, which is where the alleged sales occurred, is within 1,000 feet of the school.
A conviction for selling marijuana near a school carries an enhanced penalty under Oregon drug laws guidelines.
David James Bond, 44, who is affiliated with Puffin' Stuff, was arrested on eight counts of conspiracy to delivery marijuana within 1,000 feet of a school. He was lodged in jail on $200,000.
Police allege Bond sold marijuana near Kennedy Elementary School on North Keene Way Drive.
Michael Robert Schanno, 40, owner of The Green Compass and The Compass, was charged with four counts of conspiracy to deliver marijuana, four counts of conspiracy to manufacture marijuana, delivery of marijuana and manufacture of marijuana. He was lodged on $550,000 bail.
Schanno, in a Mail Tribune story published May 20, said his Gold Hill store is the region's first medical marijuana wellness center. He said the Gold Hill site offers medical marijuana for patients with state-issued medical marijuana cards, along with classes on growing marijuana and services such as massages using cannabis-infused oils.
The homes of the suspects were also searched, George said.
MADGE Lt. Brett Johnson said the agency seized pickup loads of evidence from the businesses, including processed marijuana, documents, computers and firearms.
The operation consisted of undercover buys at the stores, as well as informants who told police that illegal marijuana sales were occurring outside the state's medical marijuana program guidelines. The law allows marijuana to be grown by or given to medical marijuana card holders, but allows producers or distributors to recover only their actual costs.
"You cannot sell marijuana for a profit in this state," George said.
As officers raided the SONORML office, a crowd of medical cannabis supporters gathered outside. They were clear in their unhappiness with police for targeting medical marijuana providers.
"Here they are wasting taxpayer money on people who deliver medicine to those in need, while a bunch of tweakers are just down the street," said Jodi Miller of Medford.
Things became tense between the crowd and the officers at the scene at various times throughout the afternoon. Several people expressed frustration that the officers would not explain why they were raiding the SONORML office.
When Medford police announced a press conference at police headquarters in City Hall, several people from the crowd attempted to enter the building to ask questions.
They were further angered when they were told that only media members with credentials were allowed to attend the press conference.
Taurie Rubaloff, of Ashland, argued that the official statement made by the police should have been made in an open forum.
"Why can't the people ask questions of the police?" Rubaloff said. "Why is this happening behind closed doors? I think we deserve answers when police officers take medicine from people who need it."
Keith Mansur, who runs the Oregon Cannabis Connection newspaper, said the raids would end up creating crime.
"The people who need medicine will now turn to the black market," Mansur said. "They just raided places that provide medicine to thousands of people."
A protest against the raids is planned for today at 5:30 p.m. at Medford's Alba Park, 411 W. Eighth St., according to the Oregon Cannabis Connection Facebook page.
"They have the right to express their views," George said of the medical marijuana advocates. "But this isn't a debate about marijuana legalization. This is about people breaking state and federal laws."
Reach reporter Chris Conrad at 541-776-4471 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.