Pubdate: Thu, 4 Sep 2008
Source: Fort Collins Coloradoan (CO)
Copyright: 2008 The Fort Collins Coloradoan
Author: Trevor Hughes
Cited: City of Fort Collins
Cited: Larimer County Sheriff Jim Alderden
Bookmark: (Marijuana - Medicinal)


The city of Fort Collins has rejected a local couple's request for 
more than $200,000 in compensation for their destroyed marijuana 
plants, possibly leading to a precedent-setting court fight.

Under the state's medical marijuana law, Amendment 20, the government 
is supposed to maintain someone's marijuana plants if they are seized 
as part of a criminal investigation. If the investigation reveals the 
plants were properly kept as the law permits, the agency is supposed 
to return them.

But when James and Lisa Masters got their 39 plants back last 
December, they were all dead. Fort Collins police seized the plants 
as part of a criminal investigation into the Masters' pot-growing 
operation. The couple operates a medical marijuana dispensary in Fort 
Collins and claimed they were legitimate caregivers for people who 
need pot to control their pain and other ailments.

Judge James Hiatt threw out the case against the couple in 2006 after 
ruling police illegally searched their home. Earlier this summer, the 
couple promised to sue the city, but gave Fort Collins 90 days to 
decide whether to simply pay up.

The city decided not to.

"... While the city of Fort Collins sincerely regrets your clients 
believe they were damaged during the scope of duties by city 
personnel, we are respectfully denying the claim ...," city Risk 
Manager Lance Murray recently wrote to the couple's attorney, Rob Corry Jr.

The Masterses argue that their marijuana should have been treated 
like a pet seized during an investigation. Just like police wouldn't 
starve a dog, they argue, the city shouldn't have neglected their plants.

The couple could not produce valid medical marijuana caregiver 
certificates at the time of their arrest, and Hiatt never ruled on 
whether they were breaking the law by growing so many plants. 
Amendment 20 permits people who register with the state health 
department to grow small amounts for their own use.

Corry said he believes this case may the first in Colorado to 
determine whether the government needs to compensate someone for 
destroying their marijuana - a drug that remains illegal under 
federal law. Corry said he believes Amendment 20, in conjunction with 
the state's long-established property laws, requires the city to 
compensate the Masterses.

"The law is very clear, and it also makes sense. It is so simple, and 
it goes for any piece of property," Corry said. "... under similar 
cases, the government has to compensate you for the property they 
destroyed illegally."

Fort Collins police have declined to discuss the circumstances of the 
case, citing the pending litigation. Larimer County Sheriff Jim 
Alderden in his new Bull's-Eye briefing newsletter referred to 
Amendment 20 as an "ill-conceived state law" and has previously said 
his department will destroy marijuana seized from grow houses, 
regardless of whether its owner claims medical use or not.

In an essay about humorous ways to raise money for his office, 
Alderden wrote: "None of the law enforcement agencies on the Front 
Range have a greenhouse, but we have the grow lights we've seized 
from illegal grow operations so we could convert the vacated cell 
block to an indoor grow operation. We could charge other agencies to 
grow their dope, and if the case doesn't require us to return the 
weed to the charged person, we could get a medical marijuana license 
from the state and sell it for a profit. A win-win." 
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