City settles case of seized, stolen medical marijuana

April 12, 2006

Bob Egelko, San Francsico Chronicle

The city of Emeryville has paid $15,000 to settle a suit by a medical marijuana patient whose pot plants and indoor cultivation equipment were seized by police from his apartment in 2003.

James Blair was arrested and jailed on suspicion of growing marijuana for sale. But the charges were dropped in February 2004 when the Alameda County district attorney's office learned that he had his doctor's approval to use the drug, his lawyer, Joe Elford of the advocacy group Americans for Safe Access, said Wednesday.

Elford said Blair takes marijuana to ease back spasms from a broken neck he suffered in a diving accident.

Blair asked for the return of his equipment and 30 plants, but police told him most of it had been lost in a burglary at a storage facility, Elford said.

When Blair sued for compensation, the city argued that it had no obligation to return drugs that are illegal under federal law. The city settled after an Alameda County judge refused to dismiss the case.

Elford said the settlement, paid this week, is one of only a handful of cases in which patients have been reimbursed for police seizure of marijuana since passage of California's 1996 medical marijuana initiative.

Dale Allen, lawyer for Emeryville in the case, said Blair's arrest and the search of his apartment had been based on a valid warrant from a judge.

He said city had settled the suit to avoid further legal bills and considered the amount to be compensation for Blair's equipment, not his marijuana.

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