Judge in medical marijuana case scolds state agency

October 09, 2007

Sara Reed, The Coloradoan

A District Court judge in Fort Collins issued a strongly-worded rebuke today to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment for not complying with a court order related to a medical marijuana case.

Chief Judge James Hiatt threatened the agency with a contempt citation and told an attorney from the Colorado Attorney General’s office to turn over information on medical marijuana patients for whom James and Lisa Masters of Fort Collins acted as primary caregivers.

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Your client (individuals from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment) needs to get appropriate appellate relief, comply with the order or, option three, someone is going to wind up in jail,” Hiatt told Anne Holton, an attorney with the attorney general’s office, during a scheduled hearing today.

The Masters, who are medical marijuana patients, were arrested and charged with cultivation and distribution of marijuana last summer. Those charges were dropped in June after it was ruled the search of their home was illegal.

Now the couple has been fighting to get back the equipment and plants seized from their home more than a year ago. However, that process was delayed until late next month because the depart-ment still refuses to produce the records.

As part of the process, Hiatt required prosecutors to subpoena the records from the health de-partment, which administers the medical marijuana program. The agency appealed to the Colorado Supreme Court but that was denied.

Amendment 20, passed in November 2000 to establish Colorado’s medical marijuana program, re-quires the department to maintain a confidential database of medical marijuana patients. Holton said that privacy should be balanced against the prosecution’s need for the records. The prosecution’s need for the records does not rise to the level to justify breaching the confidentiality of the medical marijuana program, she argued.

“The process we are in now is not a criminal proceeding,” Holton said. “The DA’s interest is not in prosecuting but in retaining seized evidence.”

Hiatt disagreed and at one point called the delay unfair to the parties involved. Hiatt gave the department until 5 p.m. Monday to turn over the records. If the records have not been submitted by that time, Hiatt said he would issue a contempt citation.

“You can’t just say ‘we still disagree with the order,’ ” he said.

Rob Corry, one of the attorneys representing the Masters, said after the hearing he was gratified that Hiatt and prosecutor Michael Pierson seem to be taking the matter so seriously but that there is some frustration in the delay.

“This is medicine that people need,” he said.

Corry argued in court that because the charges against his clients were dropped that they were en-titled to get back their property, including the seized marijuana. In an order issued in June, Hiatt said a hearing on the matter was necessary because the medical marijuana component of the case was never addressed by the resolution in the case.

Prosecutors have objected to the property being returned, citing that neither James nor Lisa Masters were registered medical marijuana patients at the time of the seizure nor was there any docu-mentation that they were serving as caregivers for other medical marijuana patients.



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