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November 26th, 2003 Nick Budnick | News Stories
 

Bud Out!

Local civil-rights lawyers fend off feds' attempt to shut down medical-marijuana conference.

     
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Four years ago NORML organizer Madeline Martinez, who suffers from a degenerative disk disease, became the 500th person to get a state medical-marijuana card.
IMAGE: NICK BUDNICK
Organizers from the Oregon chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws are still fuming over what they view as an effort to intimidate advocates of medicinal pot.

The Oregon Medical Cannabis Awards banquet was held last Saturday at the Lloyd Center DoubleTree Hotel, but the event also took place inside an odd legal netherworld created by voters with the Oregon Medical Marijuana Act of 1994. The conundrum is this: Under state law, medical spleef is cool; under federal law, all weed is bad.

This conflict was underlined on Nov. 13, when Ken Magee of the Oregon office of the federal Drug Enforcement Administration wrote a letter to the DoubleTree Hotel. Delivered in person by two DEA agents, the letter noted NORML's plans for a marijuana-judging event to be held at the banquet and asked an ominous question: Did the hotel intend to "knowingly permit...the illegal possession, conspiracy to possess or to aid and abet the possession of marijuana"?

Facing the possibility of having their hotel seized by the feds, DoubleTree officials promptly informed NORML it was canceling its contract to host the banquet (see Murmurs, WW, Nov. 19, 2003).

"I think they expected a bunch of dumb stoners to say, 'Oh, OK, dude,'" says NORML organizer Madeline Martinez.

Instead, NORML attorney Paul Loney contacted the Oregon ACLU. The group recruited Portland lawyer Michael Harting, who, in conjunction with the national ACLU's top-gun drug-policy lawyer, Graham Boyd, fired off letters to the hotel and the DEA threatening legal action for breach of contract and violation of the First Amendment.

In the end, NORML dropped its "Beautiful Bud Award," the DEA and hotel mellowed out, and the affair came off without a hitch.

In some respects, the event looked almost like a typical industry trade show. One room was ringed by tables bearing NORML T-shirts (55 percent hemp), hemp granola and dog collars, as well as the latest in bud-sucking technology: micro-screen bags for making the purest of resin, as well as small-scale vaporizers to take the harsh sting out of smoke.

In the other room, standing in front of a white flag bearing a pot leaf superimposed on a medical red cross, an audience ranging from 15 to 40 watched a series of speakers who sounded like resistance leaders telling their troops to hang in there--victory is nigh.

After the event, Magee told WW that his agency wasn't attempting to halt the banquet, just to block the presence of drugs there. "People are very much allowed to engage in their First Amendment rights," he said.

But David Fidanque, head of the Oregon ACLU, was skeptical. If the feds' only concern was with the presence of marijuana, and not with the event itself, he asks, "why didn't they contact NORML" instead of threatening the hotel?

 
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