Medical Marijuana Patients Sue for Return of Drug, Cash Value
Thirty-eight people who use marijuana for medical reasons on Tuesday filed simultaneous lawsuits asking the federal government to return about $970,000 worth of marijuana seized by law enforcement officials over the last several years, USA Today reports (USA Today, 8/18). Under Proposition 215, a ballot measure approved by California voters in 1996, patients with chronic illnesses such as cancer and AIDS can use medical marijuana to treat pain with a recommendation from a physician (California Healthline, 6/29).
Chris Hermes, legal coordinator for Americans for Safe Access, the Berkeley not-for-profit group that organized the lawsuits, said the organization conducted a study and logged calls for three months to gather information about potential cases. Of the 100 complaints the group received, 38 met the criteria to bring a lawsuit.
In the cases, the plaintiffs proved that they legitimately used medical marijuana under California law and that they were never charged with possessing the drug or had charges against them dropped, according to Safe Access. However, none of the patients had the marijuana returned to them. In the lawsuits, the plaintiffs ask for the return of their marijuana or its cash value.
The lawsuits were filed as criminal instead of civil cases because the cases involve law enforcement, William Dolphin of Safe Access said. Penal codes allow people whose property was seized unlawfully to retrieve it through a judge's order or to receive compensation if the property is "lost or destroyed," the Oakland Tribune reports.
Steph Sherer, executive director of Safe Access, said, "There are (38) filing today, but this is just the beginning," adding, "When we look at implementation of Proposition 215, it's surprising to see such a culture of resistance among law enforcement."
Safe Access has developed a model policy for law enforcement to use in medical marijuana cases. Lt. Rick Hart of the Oakland Police Department said that he is working on a written policy for the return of medical marijuana, but the department already allows the procedure. He said, "If the case is dropped, [medical marijuana patients] can come down and talk to the vice officer who handled it" (Counts, Oakland Tribune, 8/18).