Think twice before you inhale: Marijuana is only legal in about half of Oregon – OregonLive.com
Oregonians who plan to smoke, cultivate or carry cannabis under the state’s new recreational marijuana law should make sure they do it in the roughly 47 percent of Oregon where it’s strictly legal.
Fifty-three percent of the state is managed by such government entities as the U.S. Forest Service, U.S. Bureau of Land Management and National Park Service, where federal laws list marijuana in the same category as heroin, LSD and ecstasy.
Possession of small amounts of marijuana – anywhere in America – remains a federal misdemeanor that carries fines and the possibility of jail time. But federal authorities aren’t exactly setting up roadblocks to catch people with that baggie of weed.
The feds are resolute in punishing those who carry marijuana out of Oregon, set up an industrial grow in a national forest, cultivate the drug to prop up a criminal gang, sell it while armed, peddle it to children or use the state medical marijuana program as cover for illegal sales.
The U.S. Department of Justice outlined those and other scenarios as law enforcement priorities in an Aug. 29, 2013, memorandum in advance of Colorado’s legalization of recreational marijuana sales. Deputy Attorney General James M. Cole, who authored the memo, wrote that it was “intended solely as a guide to the exercise of investigative and prosecutorial discretion.”
Assistant U.S. Attorney Thomas H. Edmonds, chief of federal drug prosecutions in Oregon, said the Cole memo remains the primary guide for marijuana enforcement in a nation now liberalizing its policies on the drug. Edmonds said the memo offers a “road map” for his office’s practices, but he acknowledges he’s no soothsayer.
“Like everyone else in Oregon,” he said, “we’re waiting to see what (the new law) means for the state.”
In the meantime, you might think twice about carrying pot into U.S. government buildings, U.S. Postal Service offices, federally owned property such as downtown Portland’s Terry Schrunk Plaza or the federal prison complex in Sheridan.
Things become trickier in the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area, a unique mix of state, county, private and federally managed land. You might be stopped and cited by federal law officers if you light up on the area’s Forest Service or U.S. Fish and Wildlife acreage.
People hoping to visit inmates at Sheridan’s Federal Correctional Institution might find that even traces of marijuana on their hands or clothes keep them from getting in. Bureau of Prisons regulations allow corrections officers to randomly test visitors with an ion spectrometry drug detection scanner, which picks up cannabis and other drugs.
Federal prosecutors enthusiastically pursue people who use mail – and not just U.S. mail – to ship marijuana or its proceeds across state lines.
An assistant U.S. attorney filed papers last week that stake a claim on $9,000 in cash through civil forfeiture. The money was part of a routine seizure made by a drug-sniffing dog named “Narc,” picked up “drug odor” at the FedEx sorting facility in Medford after its handler saw a package with heavily taped seams.
Police obtained a search warrant to look inside the cardboard package with black tape on the end, according to a police declaration filed in U.S. District Court. Inside that package, under a layer of vacuum-sealed plastic, police discovered a chemical masking agent that burned their eyes.
“The second layer of plastic was removed exposing a carbon-paper wrapped stack of U.S. currency and a third layer of vacuum-sealed plastic,” according to the document. “The third layer was opened and contained four additional stacks of U.S. currency, all individually wrapped in carbon paper. The U.S. currency was counted and confirmed to be $9,000.”
Government lawyers allege that the money was illegally sent from a medical marijuana cardholder in Rhode Island to a medical marijuana cardholder and grower in Grants Pass.
For the time being, the money is tied up in federal court.
It’s not uncommon for marijuana to turn up when Forest Service law enforcement officers make contact with suspected lawbreakers out in the woods or in camping areas, said agency spokesman Glen Sachet. But he pointed out that officers are trained to use their discretion, perhaps especially in an era when many Oregonians carry medical marijuana cards and adults over 21 are now allowed to carry small amounts.
He gave as an example – not as a matter of official policy – a scenario of someone at a campground complaining about the odor of marijuana smoke: The marijuana might be confiscated without arrest.
Stephen Baker, a spokesman for the Bureau of Land Management in Oregon and Washington, offered rules of the road to anyone who travels onto the 15.7 million acres of land managed by the BLM: “Know before you go.”
Oregonians need to know it’s still illegal to carry even small amounts of marijuana onto the government land, Baker said. BLM law enforcement officers in the state are required to enforce federal regulations, which spell out fines of $500 for possession of marijuana.
The U.S. Department of Justice announced last December – a month after passage of Measure 91 – that Native American tribes can grow and sell marijuana on their lands as long as they follow the same federal conditions laid out for states that have legalized the drug. Only three tribes across the U.S. had shown interest in allowing cultivation or sales of the drug, none in Oregon.
Government lawyers believe the marijuana policies cited in the Cole memo make them duty-bound to go after those who manufacture butane hashish oil, which remains illegal under Oregon law.
Makers of hash oil use butane to extract cannabinoids from marijuana plants. But the gas can quickly fill an enclosed space and detonate with a single spark.
Since last fall, U.S. prosecutors have charged at least five men for their roles in explosions caused by hash-oil production in Oregon. Two were making hash oil in a Tigard 76 station, another blew out the wall of a Portland apartment complex and another was making the potent cannabis concentrate inside his car at a Tigard park-and-ride.
Just last month, Edmonds indicted Mitchell L. Brock for endangering human life when butane from a suspected hash oil operation exploded in a travel trailer parked in Southeast Portland. Brock and a female companion suffered minor burns.
“It’s a huge public safety issue,” Edmonds said.
— Bryan Denson