Local groups helping patients whose suppliers were raided

Six recent federal raids on Southern Oregon medical marijuana growers will not keep card-holding users from getting their marijuana, local advocates say.

After the first Drug Enforcement Administration raid in August, the local chapter of a national organization working to reform marijuana laws began collecting medicinal marijuana donations along with resource centers in Medford, Ashland and Grants Pass.

The donations are being portioned out to the estimated 235 Oregon Medical Marijuana Program cardholders who relied on the raided farms for their supply.

"We started receiving calls from people who said, 'My grower just got raided. I don't have medicine,' " says Babette Carvalho of the Southern Oregon chapter of the National Organization for Reform of Marijuana Laws, or SONORML, which is based in Medford.

If cardholders can prove that their grower was raided and cannot supply them with medical marijuana, Carvalho adds their name to a list that she shares with the other resource centers.

"We do this so there won't be double-dipping," she says. "We are giving them very little. We are making sure everyone is getting something."

Under state law, cardholders can either grow their own marijuana, have someone grow it for them or receive it through a member-to-member exchange. It cannot be sold.

Although medical marijuana centers are legal in Oregon, they are technically in violation of federal law, which views marijuana as an illegal drug, not a medicine.

Growers contend the raided gardens were legal, and no one has been charged with a crime in any of these cases. Neither the U.S. Attorney's Office nor the DEA will comment on the raids. But former interim U.S. Attorney Dwight Holton said last week drug traffickers are taking advantage of the OMMP to create a supply they then sell to East Coast markets.

Advocates say that if the raids continue and supplies dwindle, cardholders may be forced to turn to other treatments.

"Some of our members say nothing has helped with their illness the way cannabis has," says Joseph Hopkins of the Greenery in Ashland, a nonprofit resource center that supplies medical marijuana to adults with OMMP cards who have chronic pain, glaucoma, cancer and other illnesses.

"Fortunately, because of the amount of growers here, growers are able to donate their extra medicine," adds Hopkins.

Lori Duckworth, executive director of SONORML, says that if groups such as hers can't help collect and distribute a supply, desperate patients may venture into the black market.

But says Hopkins, for now, "The raids have pulled our community together."

Reach reporter Janet Eastman at 541-776-4465 or by email at jeastman@mailtribune.com.

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