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Medical marijuana growers take the high road against county

Heading down a residential side street just east of Interstate 205 in unincorporated Clackamas County, you’d never guess that dozens of marijuana plants grow next to one of the area’s ubiquitous three-bedroom, 1,500-square-foot houses.

by: PHOTO BY: JONATHAN HOUSE - Medicinal marijuana is grown in the 'Bloom Room' of Mike Mullins and Jenifer Valley's small operation just east of Interstate 205 in unincorporated Clackamas County.Mike Mullins and Jenifer Valley, owners of approximately 24 plants rotated for continuous harvest, have won first-place awards at the Oregon Medical Cannabis Awards, have been featured in High Times magazine articles and were on the cover of the latest edition of the “Big Book of Buds.”

“Higher” educational outreach through the Stoney Girl Gardens Foundation’s Portlandsterdam University (actually in Clackamas) gives the couple even more pride than the national recognition they’ve received for their legal pot. Classes are scheduled every other weekend at the Monarch Hotel and teach about everything cannabis-related, from how to distill oils to awareness of medical marijuana laws. Their studies have developed a periodic table of intended effects and a 1-to-9 scale indicating active to sedative qualities.

With names such as “Pit Bull,” “Oregon Pinot Noir” and “Hazed Plum,” the more potent organic marijuana varieties mature more quickly than the standard three-month wait period. Their genetics are only available to Oregon’s approximately 56,000 medical marijuana cardholders (up from 40,000 in 2010 when Oregon began allowing out-of-staters to register), so people are heading in droves to Happy Valley.

“We’re the No. 1 breeder in the world,” Valley said. “It’s creating a lot of medical tourism actually, because lots of people come from all over the world to get our genetic material. They get a card, and that ($200 registration fee) money goes to fund Oregon’s emergency services.”

But a government official with Clackamas County saw a website detailing their special growing techniques, determined that they needed to apply for a $520 “soil amendment business” permit, and began levying fines until they applied on May 17. County Senior Planner Lorraine Gonzales then sent a letter to West Mount Scott property owners on July 22 saying that Mullins applied for a permit to grow medical marijuana for personal use in a 280-square-foot attached greenhouse.

“They’re spending significant resources harassing sick and disabled people,” Mullins said. “Now the county has put a big target on my forehead.”

After the county sent out the notice, he said middle-age neighbors started knocking on their door to “score weed” and teenagers attempted to break into their greenhouse. Now the couple keeps a licensed grower on site at all times to monitor a 24-hour video and alarm system. They said they don’t plan to file a lawsuit, because they would rather work with the county to help educate the community about marijuana legalization.

“I suspect it was their way of trying to humiliate us out of the neighborhood,” Mullins said. “But at least every patient across Clackamas County now has a clarification.”

After the county promised to reimburse the permitting fee, that clarification came in the form of a second Sept. 5 “courtesy notice” to neighbors:

“The medical marijuana growing operation is regulated by the state,” Gonzales wrote. “Staff received validation that the soil amendment business has not been active on the subject property for over two years.”

She sent a third letter directly to Mullins thanking him for submitting the required land-use application that the county later determined wasn’t necessary. In that letter, she said the county encourages him to continue to work with the state “to ensure the legality” of his product.

Marijuana outreach

According to the official minutes at city council meetings across Oregon, they’ve spoken “as a support mechanism in Oregon for major medical marijuana organizations and patients” in support of business applications for Club Pit Bull, an association of medical marijuana dispensaries. Preferring to call them “Patient Resource Centers,” Mullins, who graduated with honors from Clackamas High School in 1971, says he knows of no plans for a dispensary in the Happy Valley area at this time, although he and Valley dream of opening an alternative cancer treatment clinic in Clackamas County.

“End-of-life care, pain and chronic-disease management are the three fastest growing areas for health care costs in this country, and the state should cover more than just vaporizers for medical marijuana cardholders in recognition of its potential to save taxpayers money in these areas,” Valley said. “We’re starting an industry that’s going to have as much impact as the Industrial Revolution.”

They harvest approximately one plant every other week, which produces three ounces of dried material. But all of their patients, whose average age is 57, prefer to use edibles and oils to protect their lungs from smoke. With three pounds of a plant required to make 40 grams of oil or butter, these patients run through a lot of cannabis.

It costs about $6,700 to set up a marijuana greenhouse for four patients, they estimate, with an additional $700 in monthly operational costs. They also work with many more patients than they grow for, due to their work with doctors at Oregon Health and Science University and many other hospitals in palliative care or end of life and cancer care.

“Most of these patients are short term, however the state requires us to be licensed to work with them,” Mullins said.

Marijuana has the potential to cure many different types of cancer, argues Brandon Krenzler, whose daughter, Mykayla, was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia that had metastasized to her brain and spinal fluid shortly after her seventh birthday last July. She then became one of the state’s youngest medical marijuana cardholders.

“Cannabis should be a first-line treatment for children with debilitating conditions rather than going straight into these harsher treatments,” Krenzler said. “THC has the potential to treat leukemia by means of causing cell apoptosis.”

Mullins and Valley donated 90 percent of Mykayla’s slightly more than one gram-daily medical marijuana, which she takes through whole extract cannabis oil and cannabis juicing. Krenzler says the treatment counteracts damaging effects of Mykayla’s chemotherapy drugs that are required for treatment under FDA standards.

“Mike and Jen are very active activists and medical people,” Krenzler said. “They like to blend multiple strains of marijuana to balance effects.”

Valley, 42, also experienced relief from marijuana after being diagnosed with an advanced case of thyroid cancer when she was 25. She underwent one of the first modified throat dissections and received experimental radiation. Within six months of joining the medical marijuana program in 1999, her cancer went into remission and she went down from dozens of pills a day to just two.

“If marijuana works like this for more people, we could actually make the Affordable Care Act affordable,” she said.

Clarification: An earlier version of this online story should have made it more obvious that Mike Mullins and Jenifer Valley grow medical marijuana in the unincorporated area of Clackamas County just east of Interstate 205. While the post office recognizes their home as a Happy Valley address, the county is their local governing body. We hope that fact was clear in county officials responding to their planning code enforcement.




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