The Sunday Oregonian, Easter, March 30, 1997, pp. L1 & L3

Pot cultivates dilemma: get sick or go to jail

By Margie Boule´

To Todd Meszaros it was a clear choice: commit a felony or get sicker and perhaps die. He hated both options. But dying was more frightening than breaking the law.

Todd is HIV-positive, with painful, debilitating symptoms. He had strep for six months, he's had bronchitis, he's had chronic thrush.

"It's very painful. My mouth becomes inflamed and swollen. Swallowing my own saliva is like glass in my throat. And it makes food taste like paste."

Todd had no desire to eat. He had to struggle to keep above 130 pounds, and he's 6 feet 2. When you meet Todd, you think two things: What a handsome young man. And how thin he looks.

Please turn to BOULÉ, Page L3

Boule´: Police pass up crack dealers for plants

  • Continued from Page L1

    Todd knew he had to stimulate his appetite. He talked to his doctor. "He said he thought marijuana would be suitable for me," says Todd. He sent a letter to a local cannabis buyers club, but it was returned. "It had been opened, I thought by the authorities. I decided to grow my own."

    Todd is a good gardener. He and his partner, Sean Conner, bought a rundown house in Northeast Portland a few years ago and set about cleaning it up. Today it's tidy and well-kept. The yard and flowers are manicured. In the back yard Todd placed two marijuana plants. In the basement he set up grow lights and tables to hold plants. And he began harvesting marijuana, which he admits he smoked regularly.

    "Marijuana worked wonderfully for me," says Todd. "It made me very hungry. I was stressed about the legality of it, but I wasn't bothering anybody, and street marijuana is not healthy." Besides, Todd couldn't afford to buy it on the street; he only makes $8,000 a year as a store cashier. Todd says a week's supply would cost $300 on the street. "It's more expensive than gold," says Sean.

    Todd told his neighbors he was using marijuana for medical purposes. None objected. In fact, neighbor Kathleen Pequeño has written that Todd was "very careful and conscientious about his use."

    Which can't be said of the dealers who hang around the neighborhood day and night, peddling other kinds of drugs. Kathleen, Sean, Todd and other neighbors regularly find drug paraphernalia in their yards. "We have actively pursued getting rid of them," says Todd. "We call all the time. I've been a witness."

    The side-effects of drug dealing are all around Todd and Sean: late-night arguments, men who make frequent trips around the block in different people's cars. Last year a bullet came through a window, pierced a painting and went through walls.

    So when two policemen knocked on Todd's door last August and said they wanted to discuss drugs in the neighborhood, Todd let them in. "I assumed it was about crack," he says. "But then they told me they believed there was a marijuana-growing operation here, which shocked me. They had to walk past the crack dealers to get to my door."

    Todd wanted to call a lawyer, but after 10 minutes on the phone he couldn't reach one. Meanwhile, Sean was dealing with the police in the next room. "I was trying to show them the crack deals outside. But they said, 'There's five of us on the marijuana task force and 30 on drugs and gangs. You'll have to call them.'"

    Sean and Todd say the officers tried to persuade them to allow a search of their property. "They said, 'If you don't consent to a search, we'll take you to the station and handcuff you to a table until we get a search warrant,'" remembers Sean. "I didn't want to want to go to jail. I had to go to work the next morning. So we just told them where everything was."

    "I explained that I was a medical user," says Todd. "I showed them my doctor's note. They weren't sympathetic. He said we could argue until we were blue in the face about the negative aspects of marijuana."

    The police took the two plants in the back yard, 10 one-foot-tall plants and 54 seedlings in the basement. Todd was not arrested. Todd still has not been arrested. But Todd's lawyer, Lee Berger, says unless an agreement can be reached, "at some point he'll be arraigned on charges of manufacturing and possession." Both are felonies.

    Berger believes charges would have been dropped against Todd if police had found fewer plants. Todd insists he was nearly out of marijuana and was going to force the plants to bud very soon. Only half would have been female and able to produce buds, he says. He believes the plants would have produced a three-month supply for his own use. "I never sold to anyone else," says Todd. "I didn't have the space or ability to grow them to huge monster plants."

    The Multnomah County District Attorney's office cannot discuss the specifics of Todd's case, but Berger says the DA doesn't agree with Todd's math.

    "As these cases come in we try and look at them individually," says Gary Meabe, senior deputy district attorney. "There have been cases where we were convinced that not only was the person sick, but it was of a much smaller amount. And we dismissed those cases."

    Even if a deal is struck, Todd would have to agree not to use marijuana. And that worries him. Because in the week after the police took Todd's marijuana supply, he lost 14 pounds. He can't afford the synthetic drug Marinol. Insurance won't pay the $70 a week it costs.

    So Todd and Sean are moving to California, where medical marijuana use was legalized last year. "This is our home, and we love it," says Todd. "But even if the charges are dropped, I'd still be afraid."

    "In the meantime Todd is trying to raise money to pay for his defense. "I wish I could afford to continue to represent him for free," says Berger, "but I really can't."

    Todd is waiting for the district attorney's office to act on his case. And he's getting thinner. And he's getting sicker.


    Portland NORML notes: Please follow the link above to the district attorney's Web page, and phone, fax and/or e-mail him to politely request that his office stop torturing Todd Meszaros.

    If possible, please also send a donation for Todd Meszaros' legal defense to his attorney, Leland Berger, at 950 Lloyd Center, Suite 3, Portland, OR 97232-1262. (503-287-4688, e-mail Please note it's for Todd's defense. Thank you!


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