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October 1, 2008 -- Seattle Weekly (WA)

You Would Smoke, Too, If It Happened To You

Timothy Garon Lost Out on a Potential Liver Transplant, in Part Because He Was Using Pot to Ease Hepatitis Symptoms. Now His Son Is Being Charged for Growing the Weed.

By Laura Onstot

Return to Drug War News: Don't Miss Archive

In the downstairs section of Lennon Garon's house, the South Snohomish County Narcotics Task Force entered a den draped in black plastic. A combination of fluorescent and high-powered grow lights hung from the ceiling. Below the lights, 69 marijuana plants photosynthesized. The room also contained fans, fertilizer, and a carbon-dioxide generator to support the horticulture project.

In another downstairs room, buds dried in a suspended net over plastic bags filled with already-processed pot. Officers also found two stacks of cash. One contained $860, the other $1,850 and was labeled "rent."

Garon, 34, wasn't home at the time, but his roommate Matthew Dir was. Dir, 39, told police, as they went through the house around 8 a.m. last April 4, that he had hepatitis C and smoked pot with the approval of his doctor.

At that same moment, another user of medical marijuana -- Garon's father, Timothy Garon -- was dying from the same disease. And the pot from that Mill Creek home had been one of his sources.

The elder Garon had been taking the drug with the approval of his doctor, Bradley Roter, for more than a year. Then in the fall of 2007, according to Roter, Garon was told he would have to stay off marijuana for six months in order to qualify for a spot on the University of Washington Medical Center's liver-transplant list. UW has a policy that anyone getting a transplant must be clean and sober for that length of time prior to going on the list, Roter says.

"The transplant committee looks at all drugs the same," he explains. "They approach marijuana the same as IV heroin use."

According to Roter, Garon went off marijuana in October 2007. In April of this year, as the six months ended, the UW transplant committee told Garon he would also need to complete a 60-day program of counseling and other treatment to ensure he stayed off pot following a transplant, Roter says. Garon didn't last that long. He died May 1, and his case received wide media coverage.

Adding insult to injury, his son now may go to prison for the pot he supplied his dad.

In November 1998, state voters passed I-692. which legalized marijuana for medical use. The law also allows designated care providers for ailing patients to possess and grow the drug.

But the law doesn't prevent anyone, including a transplant committee, from making decisions based on someone's marijuana use--legal or not. The University of Washington declined to comment on Garon's case, but released a statement saying that marijuana use is never the sole reason for denying someone a transplant. The decision to put someone on the list is based on their likely outcome.

I-692 also doesn't change the way law enforcement regards grow operations, says Lynnwood Police spokesperson Shannon Sessions. "Basically we don't make that decision, if it was medical marijuana or not," Sessions explains. "We process the case the same way." All evidence is turned over to the county prosecutor, who makes the call on whether or not the grow was medical and therefore legal.

The elder Garon himself was busted while sick. In July 2007, the South Snohomish County Narcotics Task Force tracked a Mountlake Terrace marijuana-growing operation that led to his home. Last December a Snohomish judge issued a search warrant for the home, turning up 100 marijuana plants. Timothy Garon was charged with felony manufacture of a controlled substance. The court set bail at $10,000. Five months later, he died.

Douglas Hiatt, Tim Garon's attorney and a medical-marijuana advocate, says Lennon Garon began growing marijuana as his father became sicker and unable to grow it himself--something allowed under state law. Lennon also began providing pot to Dir, who was seeing the same doctor as the elder Garon.

On August 12 of this year, four months after police searched the house, Dir was charged with a felony controlled substance violation for the manufacture of marijuana. The same charge was filed against Garon on September 8.

Sessions says police determined that the amount of marijuana in Dir and Garon's home went beyond the limits allowed under state law--a 60-day supply. But the law doesn't include any specifics on what constitutes two months' worth of pot.

Of the 12 states that allow medical marijuana use, Washington is the only one that doesn't specify how much pot--in either processed or plant form--a patient can have. Allowable amounts in other states range from one ounce of usable pot, three immature plants, and three mature (Alaska), to 24 ounces, 18 immature plants, and six mature (Oregon). Washington Department of Health spokesperson Tim Church says his agency recently closed public comment on a proposal that mimics the Oregon rules; the agency may or may not adopt the proposal.

According to a state courts database, the grow bust was the first time Lennon Garon has been in serious legal trouble in the state. But since then, things haven't gone so well. On Sept. 14, Garon was arrested again in Chelan County and charged with possession of marijuana, use of drug paraphernalia, and driving under the influence.

Also visit our "WA State News & Activism" section.

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