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06/09/2007 00:00:00

US: Ruling protects pot patients

Privacy - A federal judge denies a grand jury access to Oregon medical
marijuana treatment records.

A federal judge has thrown out sweeping subpoenas for patient records
kept by Oregon's medical marijuana program and a private clinic, saying
privacy concerns overruled a grand jury's demand for information.

Chief U.S. District Judge Robert H. Whaley in Yakima ruled on the
subpoenas four months after a grand jury in that city issued them. The
grand jury wanted to know about 17 patients who got medical marijuana
from a grower with operations in Oregon and Washington.

Advocates for medical marijuana have said the subpoenas marked a new
tactic in federal efforts to stop state-run programs such as Oregon's.
In California, federal drug agents have closed medical marijuana
dispensaries and prosecuted doctors who prescribed marijuana to patients.

The state of Oregon and the private Hemp and Cannabis Foundation went to
court this summer to stop the subpoenas, and Whaley convened a hearing
Aug. 1.

In his eight-page decision issued Tuesday, Whaley wrote that grand
juries have wide latitude to conduct investigations and can issue
subpoenas for almost any kind of information. The subpoenas cannot be
quashed unless the person or organization fighting the subpoena can show
the demand is unreasonable, the judge said.

Whaley found that the subpoenas against Oregon's program and the
foundation were unreasonable.

"There is an obvious tension between the state's authorization of the
production and use of marijuana as a medicine and the federal authority
to make such activity a crime," Whaley wrote. "The point at which that
tension should be broken by the compelled production of records to a
federal grand jury has not been reached with these subpoenas."

Oregon voters enacted the state's medical marijuana program in 1998, and
14,868 state residents hold patient cards. Another 7,115 people hold
licenses to grow medical marijuana; they cannot sell marijuana but can
accept donations to defray expenses.

The state law governing the program expressly states that medical
records will be kept confidential.

The Hemp and Cannabis Foundation is a Portland organization with clinics
in Oregon, Washington, Colorado and Hawaii where doctors can examine
patients and determine whether marijuana would be useful as medicine.

Assistant U.S. Attorney James Hagerty in Yakima, who is presenting the
evidence to the grand jury, was on vacation and not available to
comment. When contacted last month about the subpoenas, Hagerty refused
to discuss the investigation.

But Stanford said the grand jury is looking at one man who ran a
Goldendale, Wash., grow site for Oregon patients and an Estacada site
for Washington patients. Stanford said that activity was not allowed
under either state's medical marijuana program.

Madeline Martinez, executive director of the Oregon branch of the
National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, was jubilant
over the ruling.

"I'm celebrating! Power to the people!" she said. "We were really afraid
that this big, broad arm of the government was trying to overreach.
We're patients. We're not criminals. We're just thrilled to pieces about

The ruling comes just before Oregon NORML, the Hemp and Cannabis
Foundation and other groups convene the third annual Hempstalk festival
this weekend at Sellwood-Riverside Park. The city of Portland had turned
down the group's application for a permit for the event but relented
after the ACLU stepped in.

Author: The Oregonian via UKCIA

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