Pubdate: Wed, 18 Jul 2007
Source: Stranger, The (Seattle, WA)
Copyright: 2007 The Stranger
Author: Dominic Holden


The Washington State Patrol Will Do Almost Anything to Bust a Pot

On July 11, Washington State Patrol troopers found 8-year-old Chandler
Osman in the cab of a truck that had just crushed her grandfather to
death. Larry Maurer, 63, was trying to repair the vehicle after it
broke down coming over Snoqualmie Pass. When he unhooked the
driveline, the tractor rolled over him. How did troopers console the
little girl? By questioning her, raiding her home, and arresting her

You see, Chandler reportedly admitted that her mother and father,
Rainee and Bruce Osman, grew marijuana--as medicine--in their Kent
home. Washington State Patrol Lt. Jeff Sass says the topic came up
when a female officer asked Chandler questions intended to comfort.
"Her number-one concern was to get the girl home without upsetting
her," Sass told The Stranger. The female officer inquired, "Where does
mommy work?" to which Chandler replied: "Mommy doesn't work. Daddy
doesn't work. Daddy grows medicine for mommy," Sass says.

A routine background search under the parents' names would have
revealed the couple was arrested for growing marijuana in 2005. But
search returns would also have shown no criminal charges were filed
against the couple because they were authorized by their doctor to
cultivate marijuana under Washington's Medical Use of Marijuana Act,
passed in 1998.

Rather than trust records showing that the parents were abiding by the
law, rather than check to make sure their pot paperwork was valid,
rather than get a warrant before entering the home, and rather than
take any humane step to comfort the grieving family, WSP troopers
immediately dispatched several patrol cars to search the family's apartment.

"An officer pushed [my wife] into the house, flipped her around, and
handcuffed her," explains Bruce Osman. "Then they slammed me against
the wall and told us to shut up, and dragged us out of our house onto
the steps of our apartment." He continues, "They went in and out of
the house several times, and said they were waiting for a search warrant."

The Osmans, who are both disabled from hepatitis C and use marijuana
to curb nausea and wasting syndrome, were not allowed to reenter for
four hours while officers ransacked their apartment, removed the
plants, and seized $2,000. KING-5 TV ran sympathetic footage of the
couple's upturned house the next day.

"Ransacking the home of medical-marijuana patients is not what voters
intended when they passed the medical-marijuana act," says Alison
Holcomb, director of the ACLU of Washington's Marijuana Education
Project and former criminal defense attorney. "If there is suspicion
of a medical-marijuana case, [the officer] can always go up the chain
of command and find out if [he] can just leave."

Bruce Osman, who had the doctor-signed letters posted in the garden,
says, "I told them about the authorization forms. I told them I went
to court and had never hidden it."

Holcomb says, "I think that the Osmans will have as strong a defense
this time as they did before. My understanding is the Osmans were
growing the same amount [as in 2005]."

So why would Washington State Patrol officers bust a legal
medical-marijuana garden to make a case that--unless there is evidence
of a meth lab or illegal weapons--probably won't stand up in court.

The couple's defense attorney, Douglas Hiatt, thinks officers did it
simply because they could. "The medical-marijuana law has no arrest
protection and only an affirmative defense," he says. That defense can
only be raised once a defendant goes to court, so the WSP officers
apparently harassed the grief-stricken family on a
technicality--busting the couple by any loophole necessary. The
zealousness to bust pot growers is characteristic of the entire state
patrol, which manages a toll-free hotline to anonymously report
marijuana growers and rewards informants with a whopping $5,000.

Lt. Sass brazenly told KING-5 TV that officers could get away with it:
"That's a horrific thing to have happen, but because of that doesn't
mean we cannot continue the investigation that came out of a bad
situation." Risk of negative press about officers' egregious
enforcement from mainstream media outlets wouldn't have been a looming
threat, either. The Seattle Times, which hasn't covered this story,
ran a front-page feature one week earlier glorifying efforts of law
enforcement to bust pot growers--stories about the collateral damage
from those busts apparently present an editorial conflict.

Lt. Sass says the officers only went to the home for what they call a
"knock and talk," but, he says, when "[Rainee Osman] answered, it
became obvious from the odor of marijuana emanating from the house
there was marijuana growing.... Based on the amount, it was more
[marijuana than intended for] personal use." Sass says the officers
obtained a warrant.

Hiatt calls bullshit: "The problem is they didn't know how many plants
they had until after they did the bust. We have a signed agreement
with the King County Prosecutors Office that an authorized patient in
King County may have 36 plants in any stage," he said. Hiatt counters
that the warrant wasn't issued until after the search had begun. He
contends it was illegal to search the house and for officers to seize
the plants, and he believes police may have crossed the line by
questioning the girl without notifying her guardians.

Bruce Osman claims they had 30 plants nearing maturity and 25
sprouts--fewer than what they possessed when they were found to be in
compliance with the law in 2005, and well within the county's
guidelines for two patients. Nevertheless, Washington law simply
states patients may cultivate a 60-day supply--whatever that is. In
lieu of any specific plant limit, officers construed the law narrowly.

No charges had been filed against the Osmans as of press
time--although they risk eviction. The King County Prosecutors Office
hasn't returned The Stranger's calls. The search affidavit of probable
cause is yet to be seen by defense attorney Hiatt.

Hiatt has requested the WSP return the seized plants. "This is our
medicine for the next two months," says Bruce Osman.
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