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MySpace, Medical Marijuana and Biker ClubsTim King Salem-News.com
Can MySpace friends equate to biker gang affiliation?
(DALLAS, Ore.) - A Dallas Oregon man says he never expected to be in trouble for the company he keeps, especially at the age of 51. But some of Les Lowen's MySpace friends may have ties to biker clubs or "gangs," and he says the presence of those friends on his "top friends" list nearly landed him in jail.
Lowen was picked up on a drunk driving charge last year and the conviction meant a probation term. He says there is little in the way of delineation at the Polk County, Oregon Parole and Probation Office.
"Every time I go in there is a new probation officer. The last one threatened to throw me in jail for the people listed as top friends on MySpace. Heck, the person they referred to lives in New York."
Lowen says the amount of continual criminal profiling is out of line and he says that each time he checks in with his PO, he feels like he is being regarded as a hardened criminal, rather than a citizen with a fairly clean record, spare the DUII charge.
He also says it is ironic, "Each time I go in there they have no idea who I am. They just need to read the paperwork that goes along with the case to know I'm only there over a single DUII offense."
Les Lowen used to work hard every day, but his life changed dramatically last year, when he was involved in a serious, motorcycle crash.
"I lost three vertebrae in my back. I don't think I can ever ride again. My neck bothers me constantly."
And this leads to Lowen's second ongoing problem with the state of Oregon and Polk County in particular. Chronic pain from the motorcycle crash led to Lowen to become a legal, Oregon medical marijuana patient. He says it is one of the few things that brings relief to the lingering pain from the motorcycle crash.
But his pain has no sympathy from the Oregon court system in Dallas. The judge in the case allowed no provision for Lowen's pain management, they told him he can not use medical marijuana or he will be arrested and prosecuted. That, in spite of the fact that Oregon voters have not just once but twice to legalize medical marijuana for sick people.
Lowen says there is no answer in sight, so he simply quit using marijuana and his life is more painful than ever.
Marty Silbernagel, the head of Parole and Probation in Polk County, says the first point deals with the central law that medical marijuana is not legal on a federal level. State courts may or may not follow suit with the federal law, but in Polk County, Oregon, he says, they do.
"In Polk County medical marijuana is not allowed by our department staff and if anyone would like to take this up further with the court they can do so."
Silbernagel says one of their probationary clients just had a run in with authorities in a neighboring county, where he ended up in front of a judge.
"That court clearly and directly told the offender and his attorney that the state court would not authorize him to use marijuana. They said the man's doctor would need to go to court and be fully examined and cross examined on the witness stand, testifying as to why this patient needs medical marijuana."
"That individual was told that if he uses marijuana again, his probation will be revoked and then he will be back in front of a Polk County judge."
The riff between Lowen and Silbernagel's office is actually taking place on MySpace, where Lowen is soliciting help from people to get back on the road.
Lowen says it is a matter of respecting people, and about probation officers knowing who it is they are dealing with.
"In the 8 months I have been on probation, I have seen 6 different probation officers, so it has been impossible to establish any kind of working relationship with my probation officer."
"The PO knows nothing of my case, and nothing about me. I am treated as though I am a convicted felon each time I report, but my experience with Cindy Morse was a bit different. Ms. Morse had apparently looked up my MySpace page, and decided that, because I had some people on my friends list that belong to motorcycle clubs, I was a gang member (or at least affiliated). Ms. Morse immediately launched a verbal attack on me, accusing me of being a gang member, or an affiliate, no less than 6 times."
Silbernagel stands behind the statement. "If he thinks we do not have a right to oppose his views, as stated on his MySpace account, I disagree. Many of our offenders are regularly checked to see if they have a MySpace account."
He added that, "Several offenders have been in trouble for photos showing them using alcohol, using illegal drugs."
While Lowen's site did not show drug use or illegal activity, it does show his life as a motorcycle rider. That however by most people's accounts, does not equate to anything illegal. But Silbernagel sees it differently.
"If they have a friend who is a Hells Angel, a group invested in illegal activity, then that is a direct tie to illegal activity."
Lowen stresses though, that he is not and never has been involved in a criminal lifestyle, other than minor offenses like the DUII charge.
"I'm just a guy who was born and raised in Dallas, Oregon. I've never lived a criminal life."
He says the people that comprise his friend's list are from all over the country. Many of them are people he has never physically seen, but they all have a common interest in Harley Davidson motorcycles.
Lowen's story is one of many when it comes to problems associated with MySpace. Silbernagel says hundreds of thousands of investigations linked to activity on MySpace are underway.
"Those are all being investigated while we speak, and the public doesn't know yet." In fact he says that police, probation departments and courts use MySpace frequently to learn about the personal side of people they are dealing with.
And he says the people adversely affected by MySpace accounts at Polk County Parole and Probation are not all probationers.
"There are cases where famous people, government people, have MySpace accounts that come back to haunt them. In fact, I was ready to offer a position to a person who had a MySpace account that advocated marijuana use. When I saw that, a decision was made to not bring her aboard."
He finished by saying, "What is on your MySpace account, we go with."
Lowen and Silbernagel seem to agree on one thing; that is that people who use MySpace sometimes do not know what they are getting themselves into.
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