Blowback: Pot Activist Paul Stanford Criticizes DOJ After Arrest

As noted in today's Murmurs column, noted Portland marijuana activist Paul Stanford is hitting back at the Oregon Department of Justice after his March 8 arrest for failing to pay taxes.

On March 21, Stanford filed a motion to dismiss (PDF) the two felony charges against him in Marion County Circuit Court. In Stanford's motion, he accuses the DOJ of engaging in a politically motivated attack and smear campaign against him linked to Stanford's efforts to legalize cannabis in Oregon. If convicted, he faces a maximum of five years in prison and a $125,000 fine for each count.

"I will definitely be pleading not guilty, and I'm very confident that I will be exonerated," Stanford tells WW.

Stanford says he's "100 percent positive" that his arrest—for which he was jailed in Marion County for two hours before being released on his own recognizance—was politically motivated. Stanford was chief petitioner for a 2010 ballot initiative to legalize weed, but his team failed to gather enough signatures to put it on the ballot. Stanford has already filed paperwork to try again in 2012.

Stanford's certified public accountant, Paul Henry, says DOJ attorney Jennifer Gardiner told Henry the investigation would set back the legalization movement. Henry also notes that within minutes of Stanford's arrest, the DOJ had issued a news release linking Stanford to alleged "tax fraud" for failing to file returns.

Henry says he was on the verge of filing Stanford's delinquent tax returns, and the DOJ knew it.

"It didn't need to happen," Henry says of Stanford's arrest. "This is kind of a billboard poster-child case."

DOJ spokesman Tony Green declined to comment.

The financial status of The Hemp & Cannabis Foundation—Stanford's national chain of medical-marijuana clinics—was already under investigation by the state when WW profiled Stanford three-plus years ago. Stanford says he's been under continuous investigation by the state since 2005.

Stanford says his former accounting firm sent him a new bookkeeper in 2006 who ended up embezzling money from him. Stanford says he now suspects she was an informant for law enforcement.

"I think this lady thought she was protected," Stanford says. "We fired her, and she destroyed our records."

Henry confirms that when Stanford hired him last June, Stanford's financial papers were in disarray and there were substantial records missing. Henry says he went to work trying to reassemble the record so that they could file Stanford's business financial statements and personal income taxes going back to 2003.

"My whole purpose in being here was to get everything filed, and we were very close," Henry says.

Henry says he was in regular contact with the DOJ about the situation, and the agency seemed friendly. But for unknown reasons, Henry says, the mood in Salem changed in January this year. Henry says he was called to testify before a grand jury last month—he says that's when Gardiner told him the investigation would set back the legalization movement.

"They told me they were going to indict me, and there was nothing I could do to stop them," Stanford says.

The conflict between Stanford and the authorities had been brewing for years. In 2007, Stanford defeated the federal authorities in court to block subpoenas for his pot patients' medical records.

Attorney General John Kroger has stated publicly he opposes marijuana legalization. But Stanford ascribes the turn of events in Salem to Gov. John Kitzhaber taking office in January. (Kitzhaber has stated publicly he opposes legalizing weed. His spokeswoman, Christine Miles, could not immediately be reached for comment.)

"I'm not gonna give in to this at all," Stanford says. "I'm gonna fight it all the way to the bitter end."