Rogers on the run

Canada. Mexico. Kern County.

To Mike Rogers, anywhere looks better than the Butte County area right now. Rogers, a fervent medical-marijuana advocate, made a hasty exit from his Live Oak trailer home last week, hours after a surprise visit from a Department of Justice agent.

Rogers, who acknowledges growing dozens of marijuana plants in plain view of anyone passing by the house, said that he’s “terrified” of bring arrested for cultivation. He’s guilty of growing, he admits, but said that the medicinal intent of his crop makes him innocent.

Rogers wasn’t home when Agent Michael Shane Redmond came calling. When he got word that Redmond was looking for him, Rogers divvied up his plants among his supporters and split town. It took him less than an afternoon to leave.

Calling from King City Monday afternoon, Rogers, 45, reported that life on the lam is nothing to boast about. He’s had trouble finding hotels that will accept him because of his disheveled appearance. ("We just look like a little stoner hippie family,” Rogers said.) He’s hungry, dirty, running out of money and “sick and tired of living like a dog—just because I smoke pot.”

He’s traveling with his girlfriend, Liberty, and reported that they’re considering moving to Canada with her toddler son, Sativa, and his teenage son, Vinnie.

“These feds, man, they’ll do whatever they have to do to bring people like me in,” Rogers said. “That’s why I’m not coming back until I know they’re not going to bring me in like Bryan.”

He was referring to Bryan Epis, a medical-marijuana advocate who last month was convicted of federal marijuana cultivation charges and now faces up to 10 years in prison. Epis is a casual friend of Rogers', and Rogers was one of the activists who picketed during Epis’ Sacramento trial.

Rogers is sure Redmond was visiting him for a procedural pre-arrest interview, but Redmond claims he was there for nothing of the sort. Redmond said he knocked on Rogers’ door on the request of the assistant U.S. attorney, who wanted to ask Rogers a couple of questions. He declined to reveal what the questions were.

“That’s all it was,” Redmond said. “I can’t believe the guy is running away from me, terrified, because of that. … I mean, come on.”

But Rogers’ fear illustrates a larger story—the confusion of medical-marijuana users and supporters over the dichotomous state and federal laws that govern medical pot. Rogers, who holds a recommendation for marijuana use for his back pain, points out that he’s followed the county’s rules for the use and possession of medical marijuana. He hasn’t been afraid of being arrested by the state, which recognized medical marijuana with Prop. 215, but is petrified by the federal government, which doesn’t.

Increasingly, state law enforcement officials, fed up with medical-marijuana users they claim are just recreational users and dealers using Prop. 215 as a cloak, are referring large cultivation and possession cases to the feds for prosecution. A conviction, as in the Epis case, can result in at least 10 years in prison.

And that’s what Rogers fears most. He’s already tired of running but says he won’t come home until he knows that he’s not going to be arrested.

"Right now, we just need a place to crash," he said. "This all just needs to go away, because these [law enforcement officers] just need to get off my back. I’m a patient, for God’s sake."