City SPD Hands Over Seized Medical Pot to Feds
posted by July 30 at 17:50 PMon
Last Friday, the Seattle Police Department delivered 12 ounces of medical marijuana to federal agents, according to an email sent by SPD attorney Leo Poort. Police had seized the pot on July 15 from Martin Martinez, a patient authorized to use marijuana for medical purposes in Washington, along with his computer and medical files. Officers returned the medical records and computer a couple days later—after the prosecutor’s office declined to press charges—but the department refused to return the marijuana.
In the email, Poort wrote that SPD “transferred” the pot to the Drug Enforcement Administration “[a]t the request or demand of the U.S. Attorney’s Office.”
“I believed the Seattle Police Department was on the verge of returning it,” says attorney Douglas Hiatt, who is representing Martinez. However, he isn’t necessarily convinced feds demanded the marijuana. “It could have been someone at SPD referring it,” he says, noting that the DEA or the US Attorney’s Office could also have made the request. In the past, he says, “The US Attorney’s Office has left medical-marijuana patients alone.”
Hiatt says he plans to work with the ACLU, which won a federal case last summer to secure medical-marijuana patients’ medical records, to negotiate with the US attorney’s office. “We may go to federal court and file a return of property motion,” he says.
“For the same reasons we were interested when the marijuana was first [seized], the ACLU is interest in making sure Washington’s medical-marijuana law is protected,” says Alison Holcomb, director of the ACLU of Washington’s Marijuana Education Project.
“To deny a dying person the only medicinal relief available is barbaric,” says Martinez, who suffers from intractable pain caused by cranial nerve damage in a motorcycle accident.
Because marijuana is legal for medical purposes at the state level, but illegal at the federal level, there is no legal obligation for the federal government to return the marijuana. Neither the SPD nor the DEA have returned requests for comment.
UPDATE: The DEA has released this statement:
On July 25, 2008, the Seattle Police Department turned over approximately three (3) pounds of suspected marijuana that had been seized the previous week and which field-tested presumptive positive for marijuana to representatives of the Drug Enforcement Administration’s Seattle Field Division.
Pursuant to the appropriate provisions of the Controlled Substances Act, and more specifically Title 21 of the United States Code, Section 881(a), (f) and (g), marijuana is a Schedule I controlled substance which is subject to seizure, summary forfeiture and destruction and is designated as contraband. Accordingly, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) has seized and processed the marijuana for destruction; that concludes this matter.
UPDATE 2: Emily Langlie, spokeswoman for US attorney’s office, says that US Attorney Jeff Sullivan asked the DEA to seize the marijuana and destroy it. “We’re not pursuing criminal charges,” she says.
This seems extremely unusual, given that the federal court usually doesn’t concern itself with marijuana possession cases. When asked if it’s common for the feds to seize and destroy pot, Langlie told me, “The disposal of drugs is a fairly routine activity in the state and federal system.” She added, “The DEA has done a number of cases related to marijuana grows and large scale marijuana operations.” Her office responded because the King County prosecutor’s office “would not pursue the case,” she says.
But it appears the feds got involved because this became such a high-profile issue. By Langlie’s own description, the DEA handles large grow operations, so marijuana possession isn’t usually their concern. Possession cases are handled almost exclusively at the state level, where Martinez’s pot is legal. Martinez wouldn’t be tried in federal court anyway. So they the did what they could: Seize the pot and destroy it.
The unanswered question is what role SPD had in handing over the pot to the DEA. No spokesperson has called back, so it’s unclear if the SPD intentionally refused to return the marijuana—again legal for them under state law—while waiting for the feds to come destroy it.
UPDATE 3: Hiatt says the discrepancy in pot weighed by the DEA—three pounds compared to the 12 ounces Martinez said he had—is because the 12 ounces was the actual smokeable bud. The remaining weight, he says, was leaves and stems.