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Raid of medical marijuana patient raises questions about law, search

  1. Terrapinzflyer
    Earlier this month, Seattle police raided a Leschi residence for a suspected illegal marijuana grow. They didn't find one.

    The case has raised questions of why police took such action when officers' evidence that there might be a grow operation there was a window fan and an odor they thought came from marijuana plants. The case also underscores the difficulties police have telling the difference between an illegal pot grow and a medical marijuana grow.

    "There's no way for police to know if someone's a medical marijuana patient or not; there's no registry that exists," Sgt. Sean Whitcomb said.

    But Alison Holcolmb, drug policy director of the Washington ACLU chapter, said police didn't follow their own guidelines to address whether the person was a medical marijuana user and failed to do basic investigative steps.

    In 2008, the state Health Department set a final rule defining a 60-day supply of medical marijuana at 24 ounces and up to 15 plants.

    To read a copy of the police search warrant's affidavit, the warrant and the return, click here. The documents were made public this week in King County Superior Court. Because the person searched was not arrested or charged with a crime, seattlepi.com has redacted his name and his address.

    On Oct. 13, an officer investigated a report of drug activity. Someone had complained and wanted to remain anonymous out of fear of retaliation. The complainant thought marijuana was being grown inside an apartment because of the smell and because a window was boarded up with a fan inside. Police said they contacted that individual and heard the details in person.

    The officer and his sergeant investigated and found a window covered with a wood board that had an 8-inch hole with a dark circular fan inside it.

    "I could tell by the shape and angle of the fan's blades that the fan was directed to vent air outside of ... the window, rather than pulling air inside of the window," Officer Tyrone Davis wrote in a search warrant affidavit.

    "I believed based on my training and experience that the room possibly contained marijuana plants because it is common for marijuana growers to utilize a fan and other ventilation equipment in order to clear the excessive odor emitted by the plants, the excessive smell and fumes from pesticides, fertilizers and other horticultural chemicals used to promote marijuana plant growth, but mainly to remove excessive heat, humidity, and air that contains too much oxygen generated inside of grow rooms from plants, bright high-wattage bulbs, and other related electrical equipment."

    Davis and the sergeant reported a smell that they thought was consistent with marijuana grow.

    "If you had a large-scale marijuana grow, every window would have been covered and large traffic would have been coming in and out of the residence," Holcomb said.

    Police say criminal drug grows can occur even in apartments and point out a deputy prosecutor and a Superior Court judge agreed that they had probable cause to search for a criminal drug grow.

    The search warrant was approved Oct. 18, but court documents show no property was seized.

    The Stranger's Dominic Holden first wrote about the search Wednesday and revealed the man living there uses medical marijuana to treat intractable pain resulting from being hit by a car in 2005 while walking down East Pine Street.

    "They were able to see the full extent of my pathetic grow," the man told Holden about his two plants. "There were four little nuggets of bud the size of your pinkie on one and five on the other. They're about 12 inches high."

    Holcomb said the officers rushed the raid and shouldn't have rammed the door of the man -- a Gulf War veteran who was put on the floor at gunpoint. Holcomb said he hasn't been sleeping well since the incident.

    "The information presented in the case make their claim that they had reason to believe there was criminal activity utterly untenable," she said. "What facts were present in this case to suggest officers were in any danger just because this was marijuana?"

    Holcomb said officers could have knocked on the man's door, determined he was a medical marijuana patient and avoided the raid. But police say they don't initially do what officers refer to as knock-and-talks -- asking possible suspects about potential drug operations because of safety concerns.

    "A lot of people who grow marijuana for criminal enterprises are dangerous, " Whitcomb said. "People who grow marijuana for medical purposes are not."

    Whitcomb said the search conducted with members of the East Precinct Anti-Crime Team -- not SWAT -- and also said automatic submachine guns were not among the guns the officers had, as reported in the Stranger.

    Anti-Crime Teams were formed in the 1980s, developed to address the city's large number of crack houses that were overwhelming the narcotics unit. The teams give precinct commanders a tool to address issues happening in a neighborhood, and unlike patrol units, members aren't required to respond to 911 calls.

    They don't wear normal patrol attire: typically they wear all-black uniforms. Someone promoted to the Anti-Crime Team goes through a 30-day trial.

    The search warrant does not indicate officers investigated the man's electrical bill -- a move done in some cases to determine a possible criminal drug grow.

    Nor is there any indication in court documents that police had any evidence of drug dealing from the apartment.

    The search warrant affidavit was approved by a King County Deputy Prosecuting Attorney and signed by Superior Court Judge Andrea Darvas.

    "At the end of the day, this person did nothing wrong and neither did we," Whitcomb said. Police say the difficulty comes from not clearly being able to tell when someone has up to 15 plants allowed by law.

    Holcomb said police have already sat down with medical marijuana authorities to determine guidelines to differentiate criminals from medical marijuana patients.

    In 2003, Seattle voters passed an initiative making the investigation, arrest and prosecution of marijuana offenses, when the drug was intended for adult personal use, the lowest law enforcement priority.

    Medical marijuana has been legal in Washington since 1998. Seattle City Attorney Pete Holmes has a policy of not filing charges for simple marijuana possession.

    October 28, 2010



  1. Terrapinzflyer
    McGinn calls for review of marijuana enforcement efforts
    Raid of medical marijuana patient prompted action

    Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn has asked the King County Prosecutor, Seattle City Attorney, Seattle Police Chief, King County Sheriff and a Seattle City Councilman to join him in an executive review of marijuana enforcement policies.

    The move announced Wednesday comes in response to an Oct. 25 raid of a suspected marijuana grow that turned out to be the apartment of a medical marijuana patient.

    The ACLU has said the police actions were wrong. A Seattle police spokesman, who noted officers don't have a database of medical marijuana, grows that legally can have up to 15 plants, said the officers did not do anything wrong and that police often don't know if a grow is criminal or not until after such a raid.

    Read more from The ACLU and Seattle police (above story). A copy of the search warrant, which was approved by a King County Deputy Prosecutor and Superior Court Judge Andrea Darvas is attached.

    Before the panel meets, Police Chief John Diaz has directed Assistant Police Chief Jim Pugel to review all search warrants affidavits before being sent to the Prosecutor's Office.

    "When it comes to marijuana, we are in a time of transition," McGinn said in a statement. "Public opinion has been shifting toward legalization. California, our nation's social bellwether, recently decriminalized the possession of up to one ounce of marijuana.

    "Voters there just defeated a measure to legalize and tax marijuana, but 46% of Californians voted for legalization."

    In 2003, Seattle voters passed an initiative making the investigation, arrest and prosecution of marijuana offenses, when the drug was intended for adult personal use, the lowest law enforcement priority.

    Medical marijuana has been legal in Washington since 1998. Seattle City Attorney Pete Holmes has a policy of not filing charges for simple marijuana possession.

    Last December, McGinn said he supports efforts to legalize marijuana use in Washington. State Attorney General Rob McKenna is against the idea.

    Earlier this year, activists filed a ballot initiative that would authorize marijuana possession in Washington. Sponsors included Vivian McPeak, Seattle's annual Hempfest director and a Seattlepi.com reader blogger. But supporters failed to gather the more than 241,000 signatures to put the imitative before voters this month.

    In September, McGinn that while marijuana was still the lowest enforcement priority for adult personal use, it's still against the law. He said arrests in Seattle have not increased and "we kind of put officers in a funny situation."

    "As a group we will solicit input from state legislators, legal experts and researchers," McGinn said of the executive review board," and together we will review our existing policies and make recommendations regarding any changes."

    November 03, 2010
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