News SPD Officers Search Medical Marijuana Group’s Office
posted by July 16 at 12:46 PMon
Medical marijuana is legal in Washington State. And marijuana possession for adult personal use is the lowest law-enforcement priority in Seattle. So why did Seattle Police Department officers seek and execute a search warrant last night on a medical-marijuana assistance organization?
That’s the question vexing Martin Martinez, who suffers from debilitating, intractable pain caused by cranial nerve damage in a motorcycle accident. In a small storefront on The Ave, he runs Lifevine Clinical Resources, which issues identification cards for medical-marijuana patients and finds legal defense for patients who are busted. “We are a very small handful of dying people. This is not a dispensary or buyers’ club,” he says. “We’re just trying to stay alive.”
At about 4 p.m. yesterday, two Seattle Police Department bicycle patrol officers went to the Lifevine office near NE 50th Street and University Way NE, Martinez says, claiming that one of them smelled marijuana. “[One officer] was certain there were live plants, so there I let him look because there were no plants,” says Martinez. “I was sure that he would go away.”
But the two cops then called in several more officers, and told Martinez that they were seeking a search warrant. The officers used tools in the office to take apart a wall to search for plants behind it, Martinez says.
After officers got the warrant and completed the search without making an arrest, Martinez returned to his office late last night. Police had seized his computer, 12 ounces of dried marijuana, and the medical records of 500 patients who had been issued ID cards. Lifevine issues the ID cards to patients who have authorization from physicians to use medical marijuana under the state’s Medical Use of Marijuana Act, passed in 1998.
“We have people’s entire medical records on file,” says Martinez. “They have no business being in the hands of the police department.”
Even though it appears SPD officers violated the medical-marijuana act, officers were technically abiding by the law. The statute only provides an affirmative defense after a defendant reaches a judge. However, officers also violated the voters’ intent of I-75, which makes investigating adult marijuana possession the city’s lowest law enforcement priority, by spending considerable resources investigating marijuana for personal use (the Department of Health recently proposed each patient could possess 24 ounces of marijuana, double the amount seized by police).
“Both law enforcement and Seattle residents would benefit from the Department publishing written guidelines on how its officers are to implement I-75’s mandate,” says Alison Holcomb, director of the Marijuana Education Project for the ACLU of Washington.
But neither the state nor city law prevents officers from searching medical marijuana patients, or seizing their property—even if the case would lose in court. So the search and seizure appears to be an opportunity seized by the SPD.
The Seattle Police Department and the King County Prosecutor’s Office haven’t yet return calls to comment. Stay tuned.