City SPD and Prosecutor’s Office Blame Each Other for Seized Pot
posted by July 23 at 15:54 PMon
The Seattle Police Department and the King County prosecutor’s office have been pointing fingers at each other, trying to explain why the marijuana seized from an authorized medical marijuana patient last week still hasn’t been returned. (Background is over here.) In a nutshell, Seattle police searched Martin Martinez’s storefront on The Ave on July 15 looking for pot plants. They didn’t find any, but they did seize 12 ounces of Martinez’s pot, a laptop, and hundreds of pages of medical records for patients involved in a medical-marijuana group.
But, in a statement last week, King County Prosecutor Dan Satterberg announced that “no criminal charges should be brought against the person renting that commercial space.” He added, “[T]he amount of pot within Martinez’s possession was “arguably within the ’60-day supply’ permitted by [the medical marijuana] statute.”
SPD returned the computer and medical records last week. So why not the pot?
Yesterday, SPD spokeswoman Renee Witt told me that officers hadn’t returned the pot because Martinez’s cases was “an open and active investigation.” Therefore, she said, any further questions had to be directed to Satterberg’s office. I informed her that the prosecutor’s office wasn’t charging Martinez and they believed his pot was legit. Witt said she would call me back.
She left a voicemail, clarifying—but not really. Said Witt: “After making our initial arrest and drug seizure, we forwarded the case to the prosecutor’s offices for charges and they declined. So, at this point, again, any inquiries would be directed to their office.”
Does this mean SPD was still investigating based on evidence that hadn’t gone to the prosecutor’s office? That would be strange—the search warrant (shaky as it was) was based on probable cause that Martinez was growing pot. Even after ripping out a wall, police didn’t find any plants. But if SPD did recover additional evidence, they would have presumably given it to the prosecutor’s office and there could be an ongoing case. So I took Witt’s advice and called the prosecutor’s office. I asked, “Is your office pursuing this case?”
“No,” says prosecutor’s office spokesman Dan Donohoe. “We’ve already decided that there will be no criminal charges.” That’s what I thought, I told him, but SPD says calls about the unreturned marijuana should go to his office. “On the return of the marijuana,” he says, “you need to contact SPD on that question.”
Seriously? I just talked to the SPD and was told to call Donohoe. So Donohoe said he’d get back to me. And moments later, my phone rang. It was Sergeant Sean Whitcomb from SPD.
“The marijuana is still in our evidence section,” says Whitcomb. “We are reviewing the marijuana’s final disposition.” He can’t say exactly how long it will be until SPD returns the marijuana to Martinez, who suffers from intractable nerve pain caused by cranial damage he suffered in a motorcycle accident, but estimates it will be within a week. He says the pot wasn’t returned along with the other items because it is a controlled substance; the SPD is investigating whether returning it would conflict with any laws. In an email plea asking supporters to call Chief Kerlikowske, Martinez wrote: “There is no investigation, and the property must be returned. We will be forced to sue for this action if police do not comply with the law.”
The SPD will be no doubt happy to know that they needn’t face a lawsuit nor ponder the issue another moment. Courts and police departments in medical marijuana states have been returning marijuana without any legal problems. So if Martinez doesn’t get his pot back within a week, he should do what these medical marijuana patients are doing: sue.
4:40 PM UPDATE: I just got a call from Douglas Hiatt, the attorney for Martin Martinez, who is prepared to sue. “I think it’s pretty clear from precedent in other states that the marijuana should be returned,” says Hiatt. He cites cases in California and Oregon that indicate no conflict with federal law. “I expect to file a motion next week if they don’t return it,” says Hiatt. “Probably wait until next Monday.”