Southern Oregon, James Bowman says, grows the world's best marijuana.
GRANTS PASS — "Not Frank" doesn't want his real name getting around. It could cost him his crop, even if it's behind a 6-foot electric fence. And "Not Frank" isn't completely legal himself.
Elsewhere, James Bowman says he's just another farmer, with Tasers, surveillance cameras and pepper spray, after a plot to steal his crop at gunpoint failed.
"Not Frank" and Bowman legally raise cannabis under the Oregon Medical Marijuana Act.
Demand among patients for OMMA cards to get relief from AIDS, glaucoma and other chronic conditions has mushroomed since a 55 percent majority of Oregonians approved the act in 1998.
As of Oct. 1, 23,873 people statewide had cards, a nearly fourfold increase since 2000, according to the Oregon Department of Human Services. The department fielded 13,083 new applications for cards and denied 851 in the past year.
"As more and more people fall between the cracks, they can't afford pharmaceutical drugs" and are not up to wrangling with the bureaucracy to get them, Bowman says.
"So for them, folk remedies tend to be — and have been for millions of people around the world — alternative solutions to what we consider the symptomatic solutions in our modern medicine."
"It helps tremendously," testifies a patient, Heather Queary of the Grants Pass area. Queary says she tried prescription drugs for degenerative disc disease, but cannabis works better.
Ruben Diaz of Medford says marijuana has reduced his pain from poor circulation in his extremities, and slowed the progress of his heart and lung disease.
According to the Department of Human Services, Josephine County has 19.8 medical marijuana cards per 1,000 population, the highest rate among all 36 Oregon counties. The five top-ranked counties are all down south, with Curry at 16.5 cards per 1,000 population, Coos at 12.3, Douglas at 12 and Jackson at 11.8.
"Not Frank" attributes the numbers largely to good growing conditions. Boomers who grew marijuana way back are coming to see its medicinal value as they age, he says.
A dozen other states allow medical marijuana.
Josephine County has about 1,650 cardholding patients, but only one visible clinic, run by The Hemp and Cannabis Foundation in Grants Pass. The tiny town of Rogue River next door in Jackson County has two — the Natural and Herbal Resource Center and the Herbal Pain Management Center.
Manager Brenda Thomas says the number of people coming to the Cannabis Foundation clinic has virtually doubled in the last several months, to as many as 150 a month. The clinics help patients apply for cards and connect with doctors and registered growers, and with "caregivers" to manage their care.
Federal law still rates cannabis with heroin — addictive and medically worthless — and prohibits doctors from prescribing it, but the OMMA has puffed along through three presidential administrations, Democratic and Republican. President Barack Obama has pledged not to interfere with medical marijuana programs that follow state law.
Oregon's law limits patients to six mature plants, 18 seedlings and 24 ounces of usable marijuana at any one time. "Usable" refers to dried leaves and flowers with medical value. Most states are stricter.
The OMMA limits everybody in the chain — patient, grower, caregiver — to a collective total of 24 usable ounces at any time, for that one patient.
It's not nearly enough, according to "Not Frank." He says his patients use an average of one ounce a week, or close to 3.3 pounds annually, so he stashes away part of his crop "because it's immoral and cruel to deny patients a year's medicine, even though that is a felony."
However, the Oregon law doesn't define hanging harvested plants as usable until they've been processed, and some people can store unprocessed plants longer than others, according to "Not Frank."
That fits with Bowman, who say he's part of a cooperative that grows for a total of 28 patients, and he is caregiver to all of them.
Bowman says his patients also require more than 24 ounces each, "so we give them allotments, depending on the patient's need and the harvest that year."
"Not Frank" doesn't have the storage capability.
The issue literally came home to Thomas when police raided a grow on her property in the Wilderville area this fall, seizing more than 200 pounds of marijuana, about 180 more pounds than allowed by law for the indicated number of patients, according to police.
She was charged with felony manufacturing and possessing marijuana, and delivering marijuana for "consideration," meaning payment. The OMMA does not allow growers to profit.
Thomas says she got into medical cannabis to help people and broke no laws. "I know my laws. I live by my laws. I swear by my laws."
Queary says she lost her medicine in the raid.
"It's upsetting, because I know the situation, and I know laws were abided by," she says.
Bowman, however, says police rescued his grow from a would-be armed invasion five years ago. He looks to a time when police no longer enforce "unfair and outdated" marijuana laws, and the OMMA doesn't limit him to reimbursement only for materials and utilities.
He refers readers to therogueclub.com.
Southern Oregon, Bowman says, grows the world's best marijuana.
"We would be the new Amsterdam. We would be what we call canna-tourism. And if people could leave here just like they do with cases of wine to take home, if people could leave with pounds and half-pounds of our finest cannabis buds, this would be a boon to this area.
"If we do something well, isn't that the American way?"