Search and seizure

Ordinarily, Leroy Stubblefield
enjoys it when his friends stop by unannounced.

As a 54-year-old Vietnam veteran, however, Stubblefield said he was not happy when a “friend” from the Drug Enforcement Agency stopped in without notice — and without identifying himself — and seized his state-authorized marijuana plants during a search of his Lebanon ranch in late September.

“I try to lead a very simple life,” he said. “It’s an ultimate shock.”

On Sept. 23, during a state investigation of a potentially excessive number of legal plants on the premises, DEA agent Michael Spasaro took 12 plants from Stubblefield’s 2.5 acre ranch, eight of which belonged to his two caregivers, fellow veterans and medical marijuana card holders Scott Russell, 46, and Clarence Vandehay, 48.

Although the three men were in accordance with state law, which allows up to seven plants per person, Stubblefield said he would not have allowed the members of the Valley Interagency Narcotics Team (VALIANT) to perform the search had he known a federal agent — enforcing federal laws — was with them.

Spasaro was unable to be reached for comment.

Stubblefield, a quadriplegic who has been registered with the Oregon State Health Division as a medical marijuana user since 1999, said he uses marijuana to relieve pain associated with post traumatic stress disorder and to repress sleep apnea, two conditions his doctors say are a result of his combat experience overseas.

Adam Amato Emerald
Leroy G. Stubblefield, former serviceman for the United States, has had to use a wheelchair for 33 years and has used medical marijuana since 1999.

Marijuana has been a point of contention between states and the U.S. government since the Marihuana Tax Act of 1937. Fighting against federally assisted state searches and for
the return of his plants, Stubblefield has teamed up with a Portland attorney and The Hemp and Cannabis Foundation — or THC — to file two lawsuits, one state and one federal.

“Federal agents do not belong on state searches whatsoever because (ensuring compliance with state law is) an Oregon, not a federal, procedure,” he said. “Hopefully, this lawsuit will help to change that.”

DEA Assistant Special Agent Ken Magee, the Portland official who oversees narcotics enforcement operations in Oregon, said a cooperative agreement between state and federal enforcement in any narcotics investigation is essential to organizing task force arrangements.

“Agents have a statutory obligation to enforce the laws passed by the elected officials of this country,” he said. “This is not the first time a lawsuit of this kind has been filed.”

Substance Abuse Prevention Program director Miki Mace teaches a class through SAPP called “The Truth About Marijuana,” and said she thinks lawsuits such as Stubblefield’s could eventually lead to an accordance between federal and state laws.

“I think there has to be a day when they agree, because lawsuits will continue to occur until legislation changes,” she said. “If anything, it should give somebody pause as to whether things should remain the same.”

Stubblefield’s attorney, Anne Witte of Portland, said she intends to ask state public health officer Grant Higginson, administrator of the Oregon Medical Marijuana Act, and the American Civil Liberties Union to file a suit with them in federal court. She said she hopes to stop Attorney General John Ashcroft and the DEA from prosecuting medical marijuana patients, many of whom, like her client, are war veterans.

At age 18, Stubblefield volunteered to fight in Vietnam. By the age of 20, Stubblefield said he had tried marijuana twice and decided against using it at all, especially while in combat, because he thought it would hinder his ability to function. In 1969, the 21-year-old soldier flew home with a need for sleep and a desire for companionship.

Stubblefield went out on the town, driving his parents’ car. About a mile from home, he fell asleep at the wheel and broke his neck in a car accident, leaving him a quadriplegic. The Coast Guard gave him an honorable medical discharge for passing out in a state of complacency, casually referred to as a “safe zone” by soldiers and veterans.

“I’d say at least 90 percent of vets could benefit mentally and physically from the use of marijuana,” Stubblefield said, referring to PTSD-related flashbacks he and other veterans experience, which can be controlled by constant consumption of “downers” like marijuana, he said. Because of marijuana, Stubblefield said he does not have to use as much methadone, a harsher medication previously prescribed for his pain.

“I’m proud to be able to help Leroy and others and continue this fight,” said THC Executive Director Paul Stanford, founder of the nonprofit pro-marijuana group. After the September seizure, THC gave Stubblefield, Russell and Vandehay seven new plants total and an ounce of marijuana each.

Thankful for the support for his case, Stubblefield said he wants people to take a second look at
the system.

“What good does it do to cast a vote,” he said, “when we, as the people, don’t get what we vote for?”

Caron Alarab is a freelance writer
for the Emerald.

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