Pubdate: Sat, 22 Jan 2000
Source: Redding Record Searchlight (CA)
Section: Front Page
Copyright: 2000 Redding Record Searchlight - E.W. Scripps
Contact:  PO Box 492397, Redding, CA 96049-2397
Author: Alex Breitler, LEVIN'S VICTORY GOES TO POT

Federal Agents Take Plants Before The Scheduled Release

For the second time in two weeks, medicinal marijuana user Richard Levin
entered the Shasta County Sheriff's Department evidence lockup Friday
expecting to get his marijuana back.

And for the second time, the Redding man walked away without his pot.

Two federal agents from the Drug Enforcement Administration confiscated 13
bags of processed marijuana and pot plants about 3:30 p.m. 96 a half-hour
before their scheduled release to Levin.  The seizure followed the signing
of a U.S. attorney's office warrant in Sacramento on Friday morning.

Sheriff's officials said the warrant allowed only the release of all
non-contraband belongings taken from Levin when he was arrested 96
everything except the 41 pot plants and 22 ounces of processed marijuana.

"Our purpose in this was to protect the integrity of the office of the
sheriff," said Undersheriff Larry Schaller.  "He takes an oath of office,
and hat includes federal and state statutes.

"We're certainly believers of states' rights, yet we had a clear federal
seizure warrant for the contraband."

Wearing big smiles, 49-year-old Levin and his Redding lawyer, Eric Berg,
arrived about 4 p.m. at the lockup at Butte and Court streets in Redding
for the expected release of the marijuana.  Five minutes later, Levin
emerged bearing two small boxes and an angry expression.

"The sheriff's office just stole all my marijuana," he said.  "It's total
disrespect of the law and total disregard of the judge's order."

Levin, acquitted in December on charges of growing pot for sale, expected
its return after a Shasta County judge issued a court order last week that
property seized during a May 1998 raid of Levin's Redding home must be
returned.  But sheriff's officials at the time said they would have to
check on the legality of such an act.

At a hearing Jan. 14, Judge Bradley Boeckman said the pot must be returned
directly to Levin himself.  And Tuesday, Berg requested the marijuana be
picked up by Levin on Friday.

They had no knowledge that federal authorities were getting involved, Berg

"They (sheriff's officials) are absolutely jerking us around," Berg said.
"They lied.  They are violating the law."

While the 41 plants were long dead and the processed marijuana may have no
longer had any medicinal value, getting the confiscated goods back would
have at the least been a symbolic victory, Levin said.  He has warned in
the past he might sue the county, and he reiterated that again on Friday.

"That (a lawsuit) is a real strong possibility," he said.  "We're going to
have to talk about it."

On Friday, sheriff officials did return one of Levin's pistols, two scales,
his homeowner's life insurance policy and a marijuana grower's guide.

Schaller said U.S. attorney's officials made their decision to obtain a
seizure warrant sometime Thursday night.  He said the sheriff's office had
been in contact with federal officials throughout the week, but declined to
say whether local officials asked them to issue the warrant.

"We'll comply with both (state and federal law) within  our oath of
office," Schaller said.  "Obviously, when state and federal law are in
conflict, we'll look at it in the most legitimate way possible."

Sheriff's officials say they want to comply with Proposition 215, the 1996
law that legalizes marijuana use for medicinal purposes with a doctor's
statement from Sheriff Jim Pope says that the law must clarify how much
marijuana patients can possess "before it can be appropriately and
uniformly enforced."

"The fact that marijuana is contraband under the federal law and the fact
that we need clarification on the legislation, that's the dilemma,"
Schaller said.

Reporter Alex Breitler can be reached at 225-8344 or at
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