Butte, Glenn patients among those seeking marijuana returned

August 18, 2004

Michelle MacEachern, Chico Enterprise-Record

Both Butte and Glenn counties were put on notice this week local medical marijuana patients want their pot back, or they want to be paid for it.

William Dolphin, spokesman for the Berkeley nonprofit group Americans for Safe Access, confirmed Wednesday that motions were filed for the return of pot taken from local residents.

The group spent 90 days receiving calls from medical marijuana patients and found 38 cases who met their criteria, culled from 100 complaints. This week, motions were filed in 36 county criminal courts for the return of the property or payment of compensation.

Dolphin refused to identify all the locals on behalf of whom the motions were filed. But he confirmed the Chico case involved Dinah Coffman and her daughter Aimee, adding their case involved about two pounds of dried pot and about 18 plants removed from their Chico home in 1998 and 2002. 

Butte County District Attorney Mike Ramsey said Wednesday charges were never filed in Coffman's case, because he believed she had a valid defense under Proposition 215, which allows some legal possession of marijuana by those possessing a valid medical recommendation.

Originally, Coffman complained to police about pot taken from her home, and law enforcement agencies investigating the thefts took what they said appeared to be over the legal limit for those with recommendations.

But the pot wasn't returned, because to do so would violate federal law.

'That's obviously what these folks want to press,' Ramsey said.

Compensation-related issues would have to be handled by the city of Chico, he said.

He noted the Chico police officers on the scene weighed and manicured Coffman's pot at her request, to accurately determine what she had, which was 7.63 ounces total. Interviewed after the incident, Chico police officer Abigail Madden said her department had no choice but to take what appeared to be in excess of what's allowed by Proposition 215.

Butte County, Ramsey noted, encourages medical marijuana growers to informally 'register' their crops with investigator Sid Crane, part of a county's marijuana unit, so their property isn't inadvertently taken. It's also a good idea to post the patients' recommendation with the crop, in case the grower isn't present when police arrive.

Once the plants are taken 'they usually don't get them back. We try to avoid that ... if they're growing within the spirit of Proposition 215.'

The other situation over which the Berkeley group filed a local motion for two men, one from Orland and one from Red Bluff, who were growing pot together. Their case involved one third pound of dried marijuana and 20 plants seized in 2001 by the Tehama and Glenn Methamphetamine Enforcement Team. Neither was arrested nor were charges filed, Dolphin said.

The motions statewide cover more than $1 million worth of marijuana. They're asking that either the pot be returned or the rightful owners compensated.

'This is a great hardship to patients and a great cost to taxpayers,' Dolphin said. 'The county is on the hook for the value of the destroyed or damaged property, if it's your car or your marijuana.'

In most criminal prosecutions, Dolphin said, a small amount of the drug in question is kept, and the rest destroyed. If that's the case locally, they plan to negotiate for financial compensation based on a federally set value for marijuana.

Dolphin said local law enforcement agencies sometimes have a 'combination of a refusal to accept the law and a culture of resistance' to the idea that some marijuana possession was made legal by Proposition 215 and SB420. Others have policies to help ensure pot isn't taken from patients when it shouldn't be.

'It's not all agencies, and it's not all officers,' he said.

The Butte County district attorney's policy uses the amounts set out in Proposition 215 as the maximum for personal use. But Dolphin said individual patients sometimes need more, and as long as their doctor recommends it, it's legal.

Those holding 'six mature plants, six immature, a certain amount of dried' can't be arrested. But, in his opinion, 'that's the minimum' they can legally have.

'Proposition 215 has no limits attached to it. It's whatever a person needs for medical use,' he said. Angel Raich, a patient who has a case pending before the Supreme Court this winter, consumes close to nine pounds per year for her ailments.

'There's a wide variance. They're not up to speed on this yet,' he said.

The orders filed this week seek return of the patients' property. Dolphin said they sought candidates who had already seen the expiration date pass on the statute of limitation for potential drug charges.

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