OR: Pot club or pot business

mapinc / 8/19/2011 / By Jack Moran, Source: Register-Guard

Federal Prosecutor Says It’s Illegal Drug Sales

A man with a few bucks in his pocket walks into Curtis Shimmin’s new Eugene enterprise and leaves a short time later carrying a brown paper bag filled with marijuana.

This is clearly an illegal drug deal, U.S. Attorney for Oregon Dwight Holton says.

But Shimmin – who sought advice from his own attorneys before opening Kannabosm in a rented commercial space at 401 W. 11th Ave. – begs to differ.

He insists that he’s not in the business of selling pot to dope users.

Rather, he’s providing medicine to state-registered medical marijuana patients who pay him to "reimburse" the growers whose green buds are listed on Kannabosm’s "strain menu."

"I know that in my heart that I’m doing the right thing and the legal thing," Shimmin said. "We don’t sell anything here."

Kannabosm is among dozens of medical marijuana "clubs" to open in Oregon since last November, when 58 percent of state voters rejected a ballot measure that would have authorized nonprofit groups to set up state-regulated medical pot dispensaries.

"That’s what I find stunning about this," Holton said of the explosion of operations such as Shimmin’s in the wake of ballot Measure 74’s defeat.

"It’s undemocratic," Holton said. "We voted on ( dispensaries ) and said ‘no.’ "

Kannabosm opened in early June, right around the same time that Holton issued a letter that formally notified medical pot club owners that it is illegal under both state and federal law to sell marijuana for any purpose – including as medicine.

Lane County District Attorney Alex Gardner was one of 34 DAs from around the state to sign the notice – but he said that until this week, he hadn’t heard of Kannabosm.

Eugene police, meanwhile, are aware of Shimmin’s club. "We have had citizen inquiries" about it, police spokeswoman Melinda McLaughlin said. "But we haven’t had time to look into it" and determine if it is operating legally, she said.

Oregon’s medical marijuana program and laws are rife with amgibuities, and it’s unclear whether many local authorities in the state are interested in trying to shut down outlets such as Kannabosm.

In the meantime, the clubs are attracting plenty of visitors.

More than 250 Oregon medical marijuana cardholders are now paying Kannabosm a $20 monthly club membership fee that gives them over-the–counter access to the drug that they say works best to ease their pain.

Shimmin said the number of club members is rising steadily, and that he hopes to have 800 signed up eventually.

"Like a blessing"

Oakridge resident Tony Bard said he worked in maintenance at Madras High School before a spinal condition forced him to retire in 2009.

Doctors gave him morphine and other opiates, but he couldn’t function very well on those drugs, Bard said.

He found a doctor who was willing to recommend that he take marijuana for his ailment, and he became a state-registered patient. But then he had to find a dependable way to get the drug, and he quickly discovered that growing pot was no easy task.

So Bard, 48, found someone else to grow for him under state law, which allows the grower to charge the user only for the costs of growing the drug, and not to make a profit. He said that grower "ripped him off" by selling his marijuana elsewhere, and the same thing happened when he found a second grower.

Bard then took to purchasing weed from street dealers, which he said never appealed to him.

He heard in June that Kannabosm had opened in Eugene and decided to pay a visit.

"It’s been like a blessing for me," Bard said.

Bard and another Kannabosm club member, 36-year-old Creswell resident Eric Chavez, both said the marijuana available at Shimmin’s enterprise is high-quality and low-priced.

Another thing that impressed Chavez – who said he gained his medical marijuana card three years ago after being diagnosed with headaches and stomach problems – was the professional atmosphere inside Kannabosm.

"Before I went in, I expected it would feel more like a head shop," Chavez said. "I was glad to see that they didn’t have pot leaf posters hanging everywhere."

About helping people

Shimmin said he decided to open Kannabosm because he figured that most medical marijuana cardholders "were accessing ( pot ) on the black market, and would access it this way if they could."

More than 5,100 Lane County residents are patients of the Oregon medical marijuana program.

Shimmin, a longtime marijuana user and state-registered patient and grower, said his primary aim is to provide high-quality medicine to people with serious health problems.

"It’s about helping people who are really in need of help," he said.

Shimmin, 53, knows that Oregon’s medical marijuana program has critics who contend that many so-called "patients" are simply stoners who pay big bucks to find a pro-pot doctor willing to help them sign up for a state-registered card, thus giving them a license to smoke weed recreationally.

But he claims that type of person isn’t the typical Kannabosm club member.

"I would say that 99 percent of our club members are for-real, chronic-issue patients," Shimmin said. "I have eight stage-4 cancer patients and 14 Crohn’s ( disease ) patients. Honestly, I didn’t know that it would be this way. But it makes me so happy that it is."

Shimmin said he is one of about 10 medical–pot growers in Lane County whose marijuana is on the menu at Kannabosm.

Legal opinions vary

Shimmin argues that in his and his attorneys’ views, the transactions that take place in Kannabosm are not technically sales, and therefore are not illegal.

Here’s how it works: After paying their club membership fee, a club member visits Kannabosm’s back room, chooses the marijuana that he or she wants to use for medical purposes and gives cash to one of Shimmin’s employees.

The money works to reimburse a grower for supplies and electricity used to produce the buds. In return, growers return a "small amount" of cash to the club for "storage and handling," Shimmin said.

State law allows a medical marijuana patient to reimburse a grower for production costs. Patients may give excess medical marijuana to another cardholder.

Shimmin said that all of the marijuana available at Kannabosm is "excess" – that is, it’s pot that growers are left with after their patients take what they need. By allowing their growers to pass along marijuana to the club, patients are essentially giving it to other cardholders, he said.

Chavez, the Creswell man, said he pays $10 per gram for what he considers to be high-grade pot. That arrangement sounds more than a little fishy to U.S. Attorney Holton.

"It is indisputably illegal," Holton said of any deal in which cash is essentially exchanged for marijuana.

Clubs put on notice

Holton said a number of "dispensaries" shut themselves down after his office in June warned people in charge of those places that they were violating the law.

Steve Geiger said his landlord forced him to close his nonprofit dispensary in southeast Portland after Holton issued his letter. Geiger said his operation collected "donations" from patients who used marijuana that he and others affiliated with his group grew themselves.

So far, the only pot club to be shut down by law enforcement this year is the former Wake n Bake Cannabis Lounge, an Aloha operation that was raided by Washington County narcotics detectives in June.

Holton said the notice sent out by his office is "a first step" in addressing the issue. He declined to say what the next move might be.

"We’re not trying to play ‘gotcha’ with anybody here," Holton said. "We want everyone to know that it’s illegal."

That includes landlords, who could face civil and criminal penalties for allowing a marijuana dispensary to operate on their property, Holton said.

The space that Shimmin is leasing is owned by Eugene developers John Hammer and Roscoe Divine. Hammer declined to comment about the arrangement with Kannabosm, and Divine did not return messages left at his office.

Another ballot proposal?

John Sajo, a Douglas County resident who coauthored the medical pot dispensary measure that failed last November, said that because the state law is unclear, the question of whether Kannabosm or any other dispensary-style outlet is legal falls into a "gray area." The murkiness will remain unless law enforcement agencies in Oregon decide to crack down and gain criminal convictions against business owners, he said.

But Sajo doesn’t see that happening, because many local police and district attorneys’ offices "don’t have the resources for that kind of thing."

Meanwhile, Sajo is part of a group that hopes to again ask Oregon voters in 2012 to approve a state-regulated medical marijuana dispensary system.

"This isn’t an issue that’s just going to go away," he said. "Clear-cut rules would be better for everybody, but we don’t have that yet."

MAP posted-by: Richard R Smith Jr.