Oregon judge tosses racketeering claim against medical marijuana grower

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A federal judge in Oregon dismissed racketeering claims made by a neighborhood group that a nearby licensed marijuana cultivation facility created a “skunk-like” smell, diminished real estate values and interfered with the enjoyment of their properties.

U.S. District Judge Michael J. McShane ruled the plaintiffs – a group of five neighbors – failed to show proof of a “concrete financial loss” such as through an intention to sell or rent their properties.

The decision is “clearly good” news and could have ramifications to how Oregon courts handle several similar pending cases, said Alex Tinker, attorney for the defendants.

Anti-racketeering lawsuits against licensed MJ cultivators have been proliferating in states such as Oregon, Colorado and Massachusetts since a June 2017 10th Circuit Court of Appeals ruling gave the claims some legal backing.

The Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO) was enacted in 1970 to prosecute organized crime. But it has been extended to other federally illegal activities such as drug trafficking.

Under RICO, defendants can be found liable for up to three times the financial damages plus attorneys’ fees.

The Oregon lawsuit, filed in December 2017, centered on a medical marijuana greenhouse built in Lebanon in 2017 and operated by Mark Owenby, Michelle Page and other family members. The family has since decided to get out of the cannabis business, Tinker said.

The plaintiffs included Linn County Commissioner John Lindsey, who lived near the cultivation facility.

One of the defendants, William Templeton, last month filed an ethics complaint with the state alleging Lindsey used his office to personally attack the defendants.

The attorney for the plaintiffs didn’t immediately return a phone call seeking comment.

Still pending is a nuisance claim. The judge’s ruling found the plaintiffs have standing to assert a nuisance claim based on the lost use and enjoyment of their properties during the period the marijuana greenhouse was in operation. However, the judge said, such claims fall under an Oregon nuisance law, not RICO.