Medical Marijuana Users Seek $200K For Lost Stash

January 16, 2008

Emil Steiner, Columnist, Washington Post

Today in Fort Collins, Colo., a lawyer will walk into a court house and ask the city to pay his clients for destroying their marijuana. The motion for compensation asks Fort Collins to fork over $202,800, the most money ever sought for the destruction of a drug.

In August 2006, police confiscated the plants from the home of James and Lisa Masters, both of whom (on their doctor's advice) use marijuana to cope with a variety of debilitating illnesses. Their house also serves as the county chapter of the Colorado Compassion Club, a statewide network that provides pot for medical marijuana patients.

Since 2000 Colorado, like 12 other states, has allowed registered users to grow pot. But police officers have scant training and less guidance for handling a legal marijuana growing operation. They are not instructed to ask for permits, for example, and many officers believe medical marijuana protection inhibits their ability to bust illicit users.

In June 2007, Larimer County Chief Judge James Hiatt dismissed charges against the couple and ruled that the 2006 raid was illegal. With that decision he set into motion a test of Article XVIII, Section 14 of the Colorado Constitution, which calls for the immediate return of any marijuana "seized by state or local law enforcement officials from a patient or primary care-giver."

In November Judge Hiatt ordered a return of the Masters' property, including the medical marijuana plants. In December the Masters went to pick them up, but after more than 16 months, their medicine was unusable.

"We are not equipped with hydroponic growing equipment," police spokesperson Rita Davis explained. Few evidence rooms are, but Colorado law states that "any property ... used in connection with the medical use of marijuana... shall not be harmed, neglected, injured, or destroyed while in the possession of state or local law enforcement officials."

According to their lawyer, the Masters want more than just monetary compensation. "We want police to stop destroying people's medicine and start following the law," Brian Vicente says. "The goal is to get police to change their procedures."

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