The Conversation

Trend: Police Getting Sued to Return Marijuana Seizures

In states with legalized recreational marijuana and legalized medical marijuana use, police are finding themselves sued by citizens who have wrongly had their pot seized as evidence. Only a few years ago, police could confiscate "illegal pot plants by ripping them out by their roots and stashing them away in musty evidence rooms to die are now thinking twice about the practice."

A new trend is growing where people are suing not only for return of the stash, but sometimes monetary restitution. Police departments have resorted to taking creative measures to document marijuana infractions: "either forgo rounding-up the plants altogether or to improvise by collecting a few samples and photographing the rest to use as evidence for criminal charges."

According to Mitch Barker, executive director of the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs. "None of us really are sure what we're supposed to do, and so you err on the side of caution."

Colorado, which has legalized recreational marijuana use is one of those states where the police department was faced with the issue.

In Colorado Springs, a cancer patient who had faced drug charges is suing police after 55 dead plants were returned to him. The state appeals court had to order the police to return them.Medical dispensary owner Alvida Hillery sued police to return her 604 pot plants or pay $3.3 million after she was acquitted of drug-cultivation charges. She dropped the suit in exchange for a city dispensary license. By then, the plants had died.

And it's not just Colorado. in Oregon,  

a narcotics task force takes only the number of plants necessary to bring a patient back into compliance with the law, said Washington County Sheriff's Sgt. Chris Schweigert."Ten years ago, you had that many plants, you just went in there and ripped them all out. Now, you've got to ask a few questions," said Sgt. David Oswalt, who supervises the Grand Junction police evidence room.

Washington state does not require marijuana plants are returned to acquitted people. 

The state's medical marijuana law allows gardens of 45 plants or less, though it doesn't expressly prohibit having multiple gardens on a single property.Seattle police destroy marijuana plants after seizing them, documenting the hauls with photographs or samples that can be presented at trial if necessary, said police spokeswoman Renee Witt.This month, they seized more than 2,200 marijuana plants, but arrested no one, in a raid of a purported medical marijuana operation.

"My God, we would run out of space if we had to preserve it, water it, light it," Witt said.



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