Medical Marijuana Growers Payback

December 04, 2007

Emil Steiner, Columnist, Washington Post

A Colorado couple is threatening to sue local law enforcement to get its bongs back -- as well as its marijuana plants, which they say they grew for medical purposes.

According to their lawyer, James and Lisa Masters will be seeking "in excess of $100,000" from the Larimer County Drug Task Force, which illegally seized 39 plants and failed to preserve them. Under Article XVIII, Section 14 of the Colorado State Constitution, "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." The Constitution also reads in part: "Marijuana and paraphernalia seized by state or local law enforcement officials from a patient or primary care-giver ... shall be returned immediately."

According to the Masters's lawyer, Brian Vicente of Sensible Colorado (which advocates "a system where drug use becomes a health issue, not a crime issue"), officers broke the law when they confiscated 39 plants, growing equipment, about eight ounces in loose marijuana and several bongs and pipes, in August 2006.

The cultivation and possession charges were later dropped. In November Colorado Chief District Judge James Hiatt found that the Masters were legitimate caretakers who use the drugs to treat people and said law enforcement was wrong to seize their property. On Monday, the Masters picked up their property from the Fort Collins Police Department.

But there was a problem.

According to Vicente, the plants were all but dead, one having turned into a "moldy, black pool of goo." The glass bongs were also destroyed, their shattered remains handed back in plastic bags, and the couple is currently testing whether their grow equipment is still functional.

Vicente's clients are seeking monetary compensation for their lost property, which is estimated at more than $100,000. We're "just asking police to follow the law," Vicente said. Fort Collins police spokeswomen Rita Davis says that the department was under no obligation to care for the Masters' plants or compensate the couple, saying the Masters were not registered care-givers with the state at the time of their arrest.

The lawsuit may be filed next week. My question to OFF/beat readers is this: Given the requirements of state law, should police stations in Colorado be required to have grow rooms?

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