Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Oregon Medical Marijuana and Gun Crimes -- Part II

(UPDATED -- see below)

Last month, in Part I of this two-part posting, I posted a blog highlighting the connection between marijuana, including medical marijuana, and gun crimes.  But shootings aren't just for illegal dealers, illegal users, or medical users; shootings happen to medical marijuana growers, too, and not all of them are innocent victims.  In fact, some are the criminals.

I ended the last post as follows:  "According to one article, 24,000 of Oregon's 38,000 medical marijuana card holders are growers of marijuana.  Are the growers any less likely to commit gun crimes or be attacked by shooters?"

First off, marijuana is an illegal drug for the vast majority of users, including in Oregon (where medicinal marijuana use is legalized).  At the federal level, marijuana is still considered illegal for everyone, setting up a problem with enforcement between state and federal authorities.  And though marijuana is less addictive for most people than most other drugs, including tobacco and alcohol, it has been shown to lead to addiction, particularly for long-time users.  Wherever you have an addiction, particularly with illegal usage, you have crime and shootings.

When most people around the nation think of marijuana growers, they think of shady characters with giant crops hidden in remote forests.  There was a case fairly recently, for instance, here in Oregon, where five men had an illegal "grow."  When they discovered that their plants had been harvested, they pinned it on another man, kidnapped him at gunpoint, tortured him, and left him to die.  The man escaped.  The five growers were captured.  And it turned out one of the gunmen had actually secretly harvested the crop without telling the others, preferring an innocent man take the fall.

But what about legal marijuana growers?  Surely they are above these crimes.  Immune from the illegality of the drug, shouldn't they be insulated from gun crimes?

Not at all.  As I mentioned, wherever you have an addiction, you have crimes, including gun crimes:

HERE is an example of one where two men invaded the Springfield, Oregon home of a medical marijuana grower, demanding drugs and money, and shot the family dog.

HERE is another example, where three men invaded the home of another medical marijuana grower in Oregon City, locked up the family's three children in a closet, and stole money and marijuana.  The invaders held a gun to the head of the grower while the children watched.

HERE is an example where three men tried to shoot and rob a medical marijuana grower in Springfield, Oregon.  Luckily, in that case, the men were fended off by the owner's dog.

HERE is a more recent case from Eugene, Oregon, where two armed suspects got into the back yard of a medical marijuana grower.  When the male homeowner went to investigate, the suspects shot him in the leg.  The grower's wife then came out with a shotgun and shot back, missing the suspects but scaring them off.  Said the neighbor, about the marijuana growing operation: "It's a risky business," he said. "There's lots of people that'll rip you off at gun point."

And that last quote is really the heart of the problem, isn't it?  Other high-risk commercial ventures, like banks, convenience stores, pawn shops, and gun shops, all have security features in place, like cameras, bars on windows, alarm systems, or even armed guards (for banks).  But this simply isn't the case for many marijuana growers.  Other than sometimes having a weapon of their own or, in one case, having a dog, none of these articles suggest any other sort of security.  No cameras, bars on windows, or even heavy-duty locks on the doors.  They don't seem to follow many of the alternatives to gun ownership that I espouse.  If you were growing a drug that is potentially addictive, prone to criminal activity, and considered illegal for the vast number of users, wouldn't you take security seriously?  If you don't, wouldn't you think it would attract criminals?  These are the growers' homes, for Christsake.  Hell, some of these growers have children living there, even. 

And it's not just the home of the grower that is in danger.  It's the homes and families living around them.  As one Eugene detective and a grower's neighbor commented:

Eugene police detective Matt Hervert did not say that the medical marijuana grow operation had anything to do with this crime, but he did bring up the danger of gunfire in residential areas.

"Certainly bullets flying around the neighborhood are dangerous to everybody, everybody around," he said.

Brooks agreed.

"Got to be careful where you're shooting a shotgun in a neighborhood," he said. "It's got to go somewhere."

Consider THIS case from Springfield, Oregon, where a legal grower and his friend had been "out on the town" and returned to the grower's apartment.  The friend left, but realized he had forgotten his keys.  When the friend knocked on the door and got no answer, he then foolishly went to a door or window where the grower's plants were located and helped himself in.  That's when the grower grabbed a gun, mistaking his friend for a burglar, and shot the guy.  The article didn't say if being "out on the town" had inebriated either man, but clearly things weren't right here.  Before you exclaim that this is a "simple" accident and that the grower was well within his rights (which he was, legally), remember the following:  why didn't he answer the door?  And why was his rear window or door left unlocked, or at least not fortified enough to stop a would-be robber?  For that matter, why choose an apartment complex to grow your plants in?  Is this really where such an operation should be undertaken, in close confines to young families, probably with children, as many apartment dwellers are?

But before you consider these legal growers to be mere victims, consider that some of them are criminals, too.

HERE is a case where a legal marijuana grower in Marion County, Oregon, was burglarized.  When deputies came to investigate, they found an illegal "spring gun" in his garden: a shotgun with a tripwire, ready to fire. The gun was loaded only with wadding, and meant only to scare criminals, but was still illegal.  A minor example, yes, but consider the following two cases...

HERE is a case where a medical marijuana advocate, legal grower, and card holder from Coos County, Oregon, Robert M. Walker, became angry at a man over a "long-simmering dispute stemming from marijuana issues."  Walker shot the man in the leg while the man was biking along a highway.  Scandalized by his misdeeds, Walker hung himself in jail.

Just a couple months ago, there was another shooting of a medical marijuana grower just south of Cottage Grove, Oregon.  At first glance, this appeared to be like the others, where the home invaders wanted to rob the man they had killed.  But it turns out that the grower, Terry Fruichantie, may not have been so innocent after all.  Rumors of illegal drug trafficking had plagued him before, as well as the arrest of two of his family members and four other people, some of whom were listed as legal growers, and the seizure of hundreds of marijuana plants and $20,000, after a raid by 50 officers from various law enforcement agencies, there on the property where he had been killed.

Then it was revealed that the deceased man's father, Jerry Fruichantie, accused his son and others of being "methamphetamine users who threatened several times last year to assault and kill him — in at least one instance while accompanied by “neo-Nazis.”

Terry Fruichantie was charged in August with growing and selling marijuana. Court records indicate he had been scheduled to plead guilty on Tuesday to one of the charges, although his father said his son had wanted to fight the charges at a trial.

The father was one of those accused in the previous raid.

Jerry Fruichantie alleged in a separate restraining order application filed against son-in-law Russell Nealey that the younger man has threatened to “put me away,” pushed him, destroyed his vehicles and stole his tools and guns.

“I cannot go on my property because of him and his affiliation with white supremacists,” Fruichantie wrote in the application.

In yet another application, Fruichantie alleged that Brian Nealey threatened to assault him with a steel pipe and once brought “neo-Nazis” to his boat to “cut the squealer’s throat.”

Not surprisingly, these allegations have caused a split in the family.

Wow.  Allegations of neo-Nazi affiliation and threats, illegal drug dealing and growing, and yet the victim was still growing medical marijuana and owning guns?

Don't get me wrong.  I'm a supporter of medical marijuana.  I believe it helps relieve suffering for many patients, and I voted for it.  But that doesn't mean that there can't be reasonable limits on who can grow marijuana and how it is distributed.  Certainly, mixing it with guns leads to a higher-than-normal chance of tragedy.  And, as I've shown, there is a greater-than-average need to have reasonable security precautions in place, beyond what one would expect for your average household.  It's a dangerous business, and as for all dangerous businesses, it is the role of our government to step in and mandate safety for the good of the community.  Gun crimes follow drugs, even the legal ones.

UPDATE (5/17/13):  A legal medical marijuana dispensary was robbed at gunpoint in Portland, the armed man threatening a number of volunteers before making off with marijuana and money.

UPDATE (9/25/13):  Another example of a shooting, this time in Springfield, Oregon, of a man shooting someone trying to steal his marijuana plants in his back yard.

UPDATE (5/29/14):  Five masked gunmen invaded a medical marijuana garden located in Linn County, tied up the owners, and stole plants, cash, and guns from the owners.