June 27, 2014 · 0 Comments
By Steve Elliott
Police in some medical marijuana states — who once ripped up marijuana plants by the roots without a second thought, or just stashed them away to die — are now reevaluating the practice.
Police departments from Colorado and Washington to Hawaii and California are being sued by people who want their cannabis back after prosecutors chose not to charge them, or they were acquitted, reports Sadie Gurman at The Associated Press.
Some former suspects are asking for hundreds of thousands of dollars in cash compensation to replace dead plants that the cops either uprooted, or left to die in evidence rooms.
Police departments in some municipalities have, therefore, either stopped rounding up the plants, or have started collecting just a few samples and photographing the rest to use as evidence in court.
“None of us are really sure what we’re supposed to do, and so you err on the side of caution,” claimed Mitch Barker, executive director of the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs.
The evolving paradigm under which cannabis is now viewed as medicine rather than as a dangerous scourge which must be wiped out is responsible for the changing ways police departments deal with the question.
“Law enforcement is going to have to think more carefully about what their procedures are and how those procedures might need to change in light of changes in the law,” said University of Denver law professor Sam Kamin.
Just the smell of pot smoke no longer provides probably cause to search a home or make an arrest in a state where marijuana is legal, said Kamin, who helped write Colorado’s Amendment 64, the voter-approved measure which legalized cannabis in the state in 2012. “The same evidence that two or three years ago would have given police probably cause today doesn’t,” he said.
Colorado’s medical marijuana law requires police to return medicinal cannabis intact if a suspect isn’t charged or is acquitted. But departments elsewhere have also faced lawsuits over marijuana that has wilted in evidence lockers or has been uprooted by gung-ho officers.
A cancer patient in Colorado Springs is suing the police after 55 dead pot plants were returned to him after a state appeals court had ordered they do so. He says the plants were worth $ 300,000, and he wants his money back.
Medical marijuana dispensary owner Alvida Hillery sued the cops to return to 604 plants or pay $ 3.3 million after she was acquitted of drug charges. She dropped the lawsuit in exchange for a city dispensary license; by then, the plants had died.
“We need uniform rules, and law enforcement would be wise to develop those rules, otherwise they will continue to be sued,” said Sean McAllister, who is Hillery’s attorney and is now also representing another dispensasry owner in a similar suit in federal court.
In Hawaii, a group of medical marijuana patients who were never arrested sued in May after 52 plants were seized in a police raid. They want $ 5,000 for every plant that has died.
Washington state doesn’t require the cops to return plants to patients — even after they are acquiteted. The state’s medical marijuana law allows patients to cultivate up to 15 plants, and collective gardens to have 45 plants or less — though it doesn’t expressly prohibit the location of multiple collective gardens on a single property.
This month, Seattle police seized more than 2,200 plants, but arrested no one. The plants, in accordance with department policy, were destroyed. “My God, we would run out of space if we had to preserve it, water it, light it,” said spokeswoman Officer Renee Witt.
Photo: Associated Press