'Remove cannabis from this community, it would be devastating'

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) Josephine County is home to the highest concentration of medical marijuana patients in the state, according an Oregonian newspaper analysis of state marijuana data.

Statewide, 15 out of 1,000 Oregonians are medical marijuana patients. Jackson County has more than twice that many, and Josephine County has more than triple the state average, the newspaper reported Sunday.

This rural swath of the state is the heart of Oregon marijuana country, known for highly productive cannabis plants that churn out some of the finest pot available. The effect of the Oregon Medical Marijuana Act on southern Oregon has been profound, legitimizing clandestine growers and bringing their industry into the mainstream.

Patients and marijuana producers say they are drawn to the region for its perfect growing climate and live-and-let-live attitude.

Police say the high percentage of patients in small southern Oregon communities confirms that marijuana growers go there to make a profit. Newcomers are known to scout out pot-properties and pay in cash.

According to the newspaper, nothing underscores the region's deep ties to cannabis more than the number of medical marijuana patients who live there.

The newspaper found ZIP codes in the region where nine, 12 and 16 percent of residents hold Oregon medical marijuana cards, far more than anywhere else in Oregon.

"I don't think you could find anyone who would say those are colonies of sick people," Medford Police Chief Tim George told the Oregonian.

Topping the list: ZIP code 97544 in the community of Williams, near the California border, where 379 out of 2,206 residents are medical marijuana patients, or 11 times the state average.

Federal agents have raided 15 large-scale medical marijuana grow sites in the region since 2010, cracking down on producers they see as operating outside the state's medical marijuana program.

But local law enforcement is too overwhelmed to consider pot a priority.

For Lori Duckworth, a 47-year-old former health care administrator, mother of four and cannabis grower, southern Oregon's concentration of medical marijuana patients underscores the extent to which marijuana has become a way of life.

"If you were to remove cannabis from this community, it would be devastating," Duckworth, who lives in Cave Junction, told the newspaper. "This community supports the grocery stores, the hardware stores, the auto shop."

Duckworth estimates that more than 4,000 dues-paying medical marijuana patients get access to pot at the Southern Oregon Cannabis Community Center. The federal courthouse sits a few feet away. Step inside the courthouse and a security guard will ask whether you have any medical marijuana.

(It's not allowed here, he'll say.)

To stay out of the government's cross hairs, Duckworth scaled back their marijuana cultivation this year from 96 plants to 60.

Duckworth and her husband, Lee, keep on retainer a Portland-based attorney whose area of specialty is marijuana, a common practice among growers cultivating pot for more than one person. She's arranged for someone to take care of the couple's 17-year-old son, the only child left living at home, if she and her husband are arrested.

"If you have children," she said, "you need a plan for them."

Oregon law prohibits cultivation or use of marijuana in public. The law also doesn't require inspections of medical marijuana grow sites, so authorities don't know how much is being grown.

Duckworth said growers who traffic in the drug, illicitly shipping it out of state for sale, reflect poorly on the medical marijuana program.

"We're normal people," she said. "We want safe communities. Our children and our grandchildren live here too."


Information from: The Oregonian,

Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.