The Oregonian, Thursday, October 30, 1997

Police arrest marijuana club chief

  • Three other people authorities say are linked to the Alternative Health Center face possession or distribution charges

    By Peter Farrell
    of The Oregonian staff

    Diane R. Densmore had hopes a Halloween party would help raise money for the Alternative Health Center, the downtown office that dispenses marijuana for what it says is medicinal use only.

    Instead of ghosts and goblins, police officers showed up at the facility Wednesday afternoon. Serving a search warrant, they arrested Densmore at the facility, and three other people they traced to a North Portland home.

    The arrests came a month after police first raided the center at 333 S.W. Park Ave., an action that startled Densmore, who said she had operated for nine months, supplying marijuana to people who used it for their pain and illnesses.

    Police said at the time that officers had made undercover buys without showing any medical need. Oregon law makes no exceptions for medicinal marijuana, although some people have used medical need successfully as a defense in possession cases.

    Since the last raid of the club, police said, its operations had changed - customers were paying for their marijuana at the third-floor downtown offices, then taking a voucher to a residence in the 3600 block of North Michigan Avenue to get their marijuana.

    That was a surprise to two young women who lived next door to the Michigan Avenue home. The two said they had not noticed any unusual activity next door, where there is a large "No Smoking Permitted" sign on the front porch. Matthew Harris, 64, and two other people were arrested there Wednesday.

    Rodney Bickman, who said Harris is his cousin, said he grew up in the house. Harris is well-regarded on the block, he said.

    "He holds barbecues for people and there is some kind of breakfast or something the police sponsor every year, and he buys tickets so the kids can go to that," Bickman said. "He's helpful to this community. He is pretty strict about kids and drugs and things like that."

    Bickman said he did not think his cousin was an outspoken advocate of the medicinal use of marijuana. But he said Harris had had back and hip surgery.

    Densmore, who was not arrested in the last raid, said at the time that she planned to continue to sell marijuana to people who needed it for medical reasons. She said about 350 people use the club.

    She said publicly that she would change her system so she would no longer have marijuana on the premises. Yet police found a "small amount of marijuana" at the Park Avenue offices Wednesday, and also detected the strong smell of marijuana there, said Lt. Cliff Madison, police bureau spokesman.

    They also found marijuana at the North Michigan address, which is a few minutes away from the Freemont Bridge.

    The issue of medicinal use of marijuana has been the topic of debate nationally and has been an issue in Oregon for many years. The last session of the Legislature found no merit in the medical argument when it voted to again make possession of less than an ounce of marijuana a misdemeanor. Personal use of marijuana was all but legal before that - with police limited to issuing citations to marijuana smokers. Even then the sale of marijuana was a crime.

    Densmore, 50, was taken to the Justice Center Jail on three accusations of distribution of a controlled substance and one accusation of conspiracy to distribute marijuana.

    In addition to Harris, who was held at the Justice Center on accusations of one count each of distribution and possession, the men arrested in the North Portland home were Clarence W. Harper, Jr., 48, accused of three counts of distribution and three counts of possession, and Dennis G. Payne, 49, accused of one count of distribution and one count of possession.


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