Owners of Oregon cannabis clubs say they're worried that police will use their practice of charging membership fees to bring them down.
Many clubs for holders of medical marijuana cards charge membership fees to pay for overhead expenses.
Some law enforcement officials say those fees are illegal, citing Oregon law that forbids charging for medical marijuana beyond the expense of growing.
Last week the owner of a cannabis club in Aloha pleaded guilty to distribution of marijuana after an undercover operation found the club had put marijuana prices on a whiteboard.
During plea negotiations, prosecutors maintained that membership fees charged by the club in Aloha were also a violation of the law, a part of the umbrella "distribution of a controlled substance" charges filed against club owner Kathleen Cambron, who was sentenced to probation.
"It's just the tip of the iceberg," said Clatsop County Sheriff Thomas Bergin, president of the Oregon State Sheriffs' Association.
Bergin said time and resources are the only obstacles to shutting down more cannabis clubs and he doesn't mind using the membership fees as a springboard.
"I'd like to see them all shut down today. We'll get there," Bergin said.
Oregon is one of several states that allow medical marijuana but have no logical system to obtain quality medicine other than to produce their own. For many, growing is just not an option.
Small clubs, such as Kannabosm in Eugene, have sprouted up allowing patients extremely limited access to medical marijuana. Oregon's voter approved medical marijuana law doesn't specifically ban the clubs, but it does specify strict guidelines for the reimbursement legal growers can get for the marijuana they produce.
With the reimbursement limitations, the membership fee is the only way the clubs can pay rent and bills, and with the latest ruling, many club owners are left scrambling to find other revenue streams.
"It is a concern," said Curtis Shimmin at Kannabosm in Eugene, who maintained that his operation was within the law. "Our program has been picked apart by several attorneys, and they have all assured me that what I am doing is 100 percent legal within state guidelines."
Cannabis club owners say their properties aren't dispensaries but safe havens for cannabis users to obtain and use the medicine they would otherwise have to grow themselves, have grown for them or buy on the black market. Marijuana available at cannabis clubs often comes from authorized growers who donate it.
Portions of the article are by Nigal Duara of the Associated Press