Upcoming medical marijuana hearing could be a golden opportunity for providers

August 16, 2007

Joshua Zaffos, RockyMountain Chronicle

Fort Collins medical marijuana providers James and Lisa Masters are asking county law enforcement officials for more than $200,000 in compensation for 39 confiscated pot plants, seized during a bust of their home last August. The Masters are also considering a lawsuit against Larimer County for placing their two young daughters in foster care for six weeks following the bust.

This June, a county judge dismissed the pot case against the couple after ruling that a police search was performed illegally and the county district attorney’s office conceded there was no admissible evidence.

The state’s medical marijuana law requires law enforcement officials to care for and return plants, paraphernalia and equipment upon determination of registered medical marijuana patients and/or dismissal of charges.

“It’ll be interesting to see if they’ve grown real well,” says Brian Vicente, one of the Masters’ attorneys and executive director of Sensible Colorado, a procannabis group. “Maybe they’ve got a green thumb.”

In June, Larimer County returned pot to a medical marijuana patient, but Lieutenant Craig Dodd of the Larimer County Drug Task Force says his unit doesn’t have its own grow room.

“We don’t take plants if it’s a legal medical marijuana grow,” Dodd says. “They’re not going to live once we take them. We’re not bringing them back to our horticultural center.”

Dodd says the county should still have the Masters’ lamps and fans, but the plants are “most likely dead by now.”

If that’s the case, the Masters and their attorneys believe they’re entitled to compensation. The Masters’ motion for return of property, filed June 1, cites a U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency report, which estimates “marijuana is quite literally worth its weight in gold, selling for approximately $325 per ounce in 2003.” By that measure, 39 plants, each assumed to yield a pound of pot, are worth $202,800. And that doesn’t include the value of paraphernalia, equipment and a batch of pot brownies.

The district attorney’s office did not comment on the hearing, set for August 24.

James Masters is also planning to file a civil suit against Larimer County for “the pain and suffering my family went through,” after county officials separated his daughters from him and his wife.

In the aftermath of the case dismissal, James Masters believes “there’s an element of self-preservation for the Larimer County courts and the DA’s office” to avoid returning or paying for the marijuana.

A ruling in the Masters’ favor could also set a state precedent. Vicente says he doesn’t know of any Colorado cases where the government has paid for destroyed weed. In California, at least one medical marijuana patient received a payout after his seized pot was stolen from a police storage locker.

James Masters adds that the local medical marijuana community has only recently gained the capacity to grow an amount of cannabis equal to what they were cultivating last year.

“We’ve built a community of camaraderie and trust, even without the medicine,” Masters says, “but it has cost patients with their quality of life.”

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