SPRINGFIELD, Ore. – Medical marijuana user Paul McClain is standing strong, facing court next month on a charge he never expected: "If [they rule] according to the law...," he said, "then I'm going to be exonerated."
McClain goes to trial next month on a ticket for illegal marijuana possession. Officers found a sack of weed and pipes in his backpack during a search last month at the Springfield Justice Center, the city's police station.
"It's our belief," said Springfield Police Sergeant Tom Borcher, "that he'll be convicted based on the definition of the law."
At the root of the dispute: Can Oregon's 26,000 registered medical marijuana users carry the drug with them wherever they go?
One part of Oregon's medical marijuana law seems to support McClain's argument:
ORS 475.309 says "a person engaged in or assisting in the medical use of marijuana is excepted from the criminal laws of the state for possession, delivery or production of marijuana ..."
However, ORS 475.316 qualifies that the exception from criminal laws does not extend to someone who "engages in the medical use of marijuana in a public place" defined in ORS 161.015 as "hallways, lobbies and other parts of apartment houses and hotels not constituting rooms or apartments designed for actual residence, and highways, streets, schools, places of amusement, parks, playgrounds and premises used in connection with public passenger transportation."
Source: Oregon Revised Statutes
McClain said his state-issued medical marijuana card gives him the right to carry the drug outside his home.
"I feel I was complying with state regulations because I read the regulations about medical marijuana and that I was in compliance," he said.
Springfield police don't think the law allows people with a medical marijuana card to carry the drug in public.
"Our position is that he unlawfully possessed marijuana in a public place," Borchers said.
So whether it's just outside the courtroom in the hallway of the Springfield Justice Center or on the street outside the center, police maintain it's illegal to bring medical marijuana into a public space.
"The law defines medical marijuana use as possession," Borchers said.
"If the rules that I've read are incorrect, then I've been misinformed," McClain said.
On April 22, McClain will find out if his legal argument will stand or go up in smoke.
"If these rules are right, then I am right," he said. "It's about these rules."