Last week, Portland police arrested a man they say was dealing methamphetamine and fentanyl on a downtown corner. But the crime prosecutors charged him with had nothing to do with illicit drugs. Instead, they charged him with a different felony: practicing medicine without a license.
On June 14, Officer Eli Arnold watched 31-year-old John Baker Jr. pull up to the corner of Southwest 9th Avenue and Washington Street and pull out a bag containing meth. “People milling about approached him eagerly in a manner consistent with street drug transactions,” noted a probable cause affidavit later filed by prosecutors.
But when Arnold arrested Baker, he had only 2.1 grams of meth—and no cash. “At Baker’s foot was a single fentanyl pill that had likely been dropped by Baker” upon seeing the officer, wrote deputy district attorney Eric Pickard. “Two blue pills which tested presumptive positive for fentanyl were also recovered. Both pills were stamped with the letter M in an attempt to falsely portray the pills as legitimate medication.”
When asked if he was dealing, Baker nodded, but then said “he really was just helping people out” who were experiencing withdrawals, according to the affidavit.
Baker admitted having no medical license. Hence, the surprising charge. “This charge is something we have used in the past, but we are unaware of it being used in this context,” says DA office spokeswoman, Liz Merah. “It is important to us to use all available laws to prosecute people who are propagating dangerous drugs like fentanyl on our streets.”
This isn’t the first time Multnomah County prosecutors have used unconventional charges against downtown drug dealers. Beginning this year, they’ve started levying trademark counterfeiting charges against dealers selling “blues,” the fentanyl pills stamped to look like legitimate OxyContin manufactured by Mallinckrodt Pharmaceuticals.