Group seeks return of pot plants from Montebello PD

December 28, 2008

Sandra T. Molina, Whittier Daily News

LOS ANGELES - Medical marijuana advocacy group Americans for Safe Access filed legal briefs Monday accusing the city of Montebello of contempt of court for refusing to return medical marijuana wrongfully seized more than four years ago. On Oct. 15, 2004, local police seized marijuana plants, growing equipment, and personal correspondence from the Montebello home of Terry Gene Walker.

Police criminally charged Walker, regardless of his status as a medical marijuana patient, said Joe Elford, chief counsel for Oakland-based ASA, who is representing Walker in his contempt claim.

Walker's criminal case was dismissed.

In March 2006, a Los Angeles Superior Court judge ordered the Montebello Police Department to return all property seized from Walker, including 42 marijuana plants, 22 cultivation lamps and personal correspondence and books.

"Mr. Walker demonstrated that he lawfully possessed the marijuana at issue for his medical use," Elford said.

He said Walker, who suffers from cervical disc degenerative disease, presented the Police Department with the court order, but was denied the return of his belongings.

Montebello City Attorney Arnold Alvarez-Glasman said the Police Department took the position against returning an illegal substance.

"Federal law states it is still illegal to possess marijuana," he said.

Under the Compassionate Use Act of 1996, seriously ill Californians have the right to obtain and use marijuana for medical purposes as recommended by a physician who has determined that the person's health would benefit from the use of marijuana in the treatment of cancer, anorexia, AIDS, chronic pain, spasticity, glaucoma, arthritis, migraine, or any other illness for which marijuana provides relief.

It also states that patients and their primary caregivers who obtain and use marijuana for medical purposes upon the recommendation of a physician are not subject to criminal prosecution or sanction.

"We are going to file contempt charges against cities and counties that run afoul of their obligation under the state's medical marijuana law," Elford said. "The indiscretion of cities like Montebello will not be tolerated."

In addition to the return of property, Elford is seeking a monetary fine and payment of Walker's attorney fees.

Alvarez-Glasman said he will advise his client to defend the filing.

"We still have to review and evaluate the case, but if directed to do so, we will diligently defend the city's position," he said.

A date for the hearing has not yet been set. 

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