Medical Marijuana Patients Argue for Right to Unlawfully Seized Property

August 21, 2007
What: Oral arguments for two medical marijuana "Return of Property" cases in State Appellate Court
When: Thursday, August 23 at 1:30pm
Where: California Court of Appeal for the Fourth District, 925 N.
Spurgeon Street, Santa Ana
Who: ASA Executive Director Steph Sherer, Chief Counsel Joe Elford will all be available for comment after the hearing Santa Ana, CA -- After more than two years, Garden Grove patient Felix Kha may finally see the return of his wrongfully confiscated 8 grams of medical marijuana. California's Fourth Appellate District in Santa Ana will hear oral arguments in a case that has drawn the attention of the State Attorney General and the California Police Chiefs Association. Both organizations filed amicus briefs in the case, which supported opposite sides of the issue whether law enforcement has a right to seize a patient's marijuana and, in the event of an unlawful seizure, whether that patient has a right to get it back. Kha was cited for marijuana possession and had his medicine seized in June 2005, but after the case was dismissed in August 2005, an Orange County Superior Court judge ordered the return of his medicine. However, the City of Garden Grove not only refused to return Kha's unlawfully seized property, it also appealed the order, an unprecedented action by a California city.

"More than ten years after the passage of the Compassionate Use Act, patients are still victim to routine medical marijuana seizures by local law enforcement," said Americans for Safe Access Chief Counsel, and Kha's attorney, Joe Elford. "It is bad enough to have your medicine indiscriminately seized by police, but to then be denied its rightful return shows a blatant disregard for state law and the hundreds of thousands of California patients for whom this law was designed to protect."

Americans for Safe Access (ASA) has compiled reports from nearly eight hundred patient encounters with local or state police during a period of more than two years. These reports show a glaring trend: more than 90% of all encounters result in medicine seizure by police regardless of any probable cause. According to reports received by ASA, rampant seizure of medical marijuana from qualified patients and primary caregivers has taken place in 53 of California's 58 counties. These violations of state law occur in both urban and rural locales, in the north as well as the south, and by both city and county law enforcement.

Until 2005, the California Highway Patrol (CHP) held the record for the worst violator of Proposition 215, with a policy of mandatory seizure of medical marijuana regardless of patient status. In early 2005, ASA sued the state's top law enforcement agency and by August of that year the CHP had revised its policy to better respect patients' rights. As a result of that policy change, the CHP went from being the most irresponsible law enforcement agency with regard to the unlawful seizure of medical marijuana to one of the state's best. As a result of different litigation, also involving ASA, the County of Merced revised its police policy in June 2007 to prevent the unlawful seizure of marijuana from qualified patients.

As a consequence of the high number of medicine seizures, ASA has assisted scores of patients in seeking the return of their property. Although fairly onerous, California criminal courts have a mechanism to seek the return of medical marijuana; patients can file a motion for return of property and request a hearing. According to ASA, at least thirty of these motions have resulted in Superior Court orders and the return of patient medicine. At the same time, an undue number of denials have also occurred. In fact, Kha's case will be heard alongside the case of Jim Spray, a Huntington Beach patient that was denied a court order by a different judge in the same Superior Court that issued Kha's order. This discrepancy makes the issue ripe for an appellate court decision.

For further information, refer to:
Felix Kha's return of property case, including a description and legal briefs
The City of Garden Grove's appeal
ASA's opposition to Garden Grove's appeal
The California Attorney General's amicus brief in support of Kha
The California Police Chiefs Association amicus brief in support of Garden Grove
Examples of return of property court orders issued by Superior Court judges in California

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