Oregon's top court to hear sheriff's appeal

The Oregon Supreme Court will hear Jackson County Sheriff Mike Winters' appeal of a previous ruling in favor of a woman who was denied a concealed handgun license on the basis that she is a medical marijuana cardholder.

In an interview Wednesday, Winters said he did not know when the court would hear the appeal. He also declined to discuss specific points in the case.

"We want to wait until the Supreme Court hearing before we say anything on the record," Winters said.

At hand is a May 2008 ruling in Jackson County Circuit Court that ordered Winters to grant Cynthia Townsley Willis a renewal of her concealed handgun license. The ruling was upheld by the Oregon Court of Appeals in June.

The sheriff's office denied Willis' request for a license after it found she was a medical marijuana cardholder.

Winters said his appeal is not based on a personal beef with Willis.

"We have to protect ourselves here," Winters said. "I have some concerns about the issue that I want another court to hear."

Winters denied Willis' renewal because marijuana remains illegal under federal law.

Winters said he cannot renew Willis' license because marijuana is listed in the federal Controlled Substances Act as a Schedule 1 drug.

"We don't want to get into trouble with the federal government," Winters said.

Winters hopes a ruling from Oregon's highest court will settle the issue once and for all.

"All we want is a clear ruling in this case," Winters said. "We feel that can be provided by the Supreme Court."

Winters argued that as a law enforcement official, he has taken an oath to uphold federal as well as state laws.

Attempts to reach Willis for comment Wednesday were unsuccessful.

She is manager of the Medford office of Voter Power, an Oregon nonprofit established in 2001 that advocates for cannabis laws and policies.

Willis has said she takes medical marijuana because of severe back spasms.

Willis' lawyer previously argued that she should not be denied a concealed handgun license because she meets the required criteria.

Reach reporter Chris Conrad at 541-776-4471; or e-mail cconrad@mailtribune.com.

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