Written by Lindsay E. Landstrom
Edited by Amanda Klimczak
This opinion represents the author’s opinion and not necessarily the opinion of anyone else affiliated with The Legality.
In southern Oregon, people like to grow marijuana. Perhaps it’s the climate. Perhaps it’s the people. Perhaps it’s because there’s nothing better to do. No matter the reason, gobs of people grow around Medford, and because lots of people grow, lots of people get in trouble for growing illegally. Not everyone, obviously. Many folks who grow marijuana do so legally. They remain in strict compliance with Oregon’s medical marijuana program and stay out of trouble. The Obama administration has said that it is not a priority of the Department of Justice to prosecute growers who remain in strict compliance with state growing and possession laws. In short, if you follow the letter of the law, you’ll be fine.
Unfortunately, some folks down in southern Oregon are quite brash and bold in exploiting Oregon law for their own gain. It should not be surprising that profiteers exploit a law that operates on as much faith and trust as Oregon’s medical marijuana law. Therefore, the Department of Justice is left with a quandary: the President said his administration will not go after growers in strict compliance with state law, but many growers are rather sketchy in their interpretation of state law. Others just cast aside reasonableness and grow hundreds of plants that produce hundreds of pounds of bud and shake. So what’s the DOJ to do?
The obvious answer to me is that the DOJ should go after those who are blatantly not in strict compliance with state law. The problem is that the neither the media nor many of the libertarian-minded southern Oregonians see it that way. They see it as the DOJ simply changing its mind and unfairly targeting legal growers. In essence, Obama said one thing and now he’s doing another. Entrapment by estoppel, if you will. People are willingly and knowingly breaking well-established law, but because the President and the DOJ offered one narrow caveat for medical growers, they’re bewildered when the sheriff and ADA knock on their door.
The Medford division of the District of Oregon recently wrapped up a weeklong illegal growing and distribution trial (the guy also had several unregistered machine guns). Many similar cases are in the pipeline. These folks are all accused of growing hundreds of plants and, in some cases, conspiring to distribute hundreds of pounds of the devil’s lettuce. These are not cases of the DOJ bullying innocent medical marijuana growers.
The DOJ versus marijuana growers debate often erodes into a debate on the legality of marijuana. Personally, I believe history will prove marijuana to be textbook malum prohibitum. My children will look back and think, “Why did everyone care so much about grass?” Everyone has an opinion on the legality of marijuana. However, the legality debate doesn’t help the DOJ’s quandary. Congress decides what laws are on the books and the DOJ works to enforce these laws. As long as marijuana is illegal at the federal level, the DOJ has a job to do. It’s unfortunate that the DOJ’s obligation to follow the law is rarely acknowledged in the media or non-legal circles. Quite simply, it seems, that marijuana growers have two simple options: remain in compliance with state law or potentially face a heavy sentence.