The Shasta County court is deciding whether to reimburse a woman for 800 pounds of marijuana that the Shasta County Marijuana Eradication Team seized and destroyed in January.
According to Redding.com, Esmeralda Sanchez Garcia owns the land that the marijuana was grown on and has a medical recommendation for 99 plants. At least two other people had recommendations that accounted for plants grown on the property. The Sheriff’s Department claims it was an illegal “commercial operation,” while Sanchez Garcia’s attorney sees it plainly as a cooperative operating within the law. Sanchez Garcia is suing for reimbursement for the destroyed plants.
This is an interesting case because the laws are continuously evolving on this topic and because federal, state, and local laws can — and almost always do — conflict with each other. Every year, thousands of people who believe that they’re operating legally and following medical advice find themselves questioned, investigated, and harassed. And every year, hundreds of those people get arrested, charged, and smeared in the press while fighting to prove that they’re in the right and to avoid between 16 months and several years behind bars.
A better approach is to talk to an informed attorney before you set up your legal medical marijuana grow. That way you can figure out how to best comply with the laws — local, state, and federal — and show that it’s a legal operation when (not ‘if’) the cops come looking to shut it down.
Federal law on marijuana is pretty simple: it’s illegal. [Section 812(c)] In California, a certain amount of marijuana is allowed if you have a medical need for it. California’s Proposition 215 — the Compassionate Use Act — is the law of the land and allows a certain amount of marijuana, if you have a medical need for it. (Health and Safety code section 11362.5)
Each county is entitled to create its own guidelines of how much marijuana you can possess or grow under Prop 215. The aptly named Senate Bill 420 allows you to possess 8 ounces of dried marijuana and/or 6 mature or 12 immature plants. Under that bill counties and municipalities can allow more than that amount, but not less — it is a minimum, not a maximum.
Sonoma and Mendocino counties aggressively enforce their local rules, but they do recognize that Prop 215 is the law of the land. Lots of grows are discovered and ignored, providing that there’s nothing illegal.
When the police decide they want to bust your grow, you’re in better shape if you can document that it’s legal. If you’re complying with the laws AND capable of showing that compliance (and if they’re conducting an honest investigation), you’re more than halfway home.
Good documentation also helps to avoid the situation that Ms. Sanchez Garcia is in — trying to get compensation after the fact. The likelihood of getting reimbursed, or getting your property back, always depends on the facts of the case. Asset forfeiture law is particular and specialized, and it involves criminal and civil proceedings governed by both state and federal laws.
One of my clients, a young woman in the North Bay, had $16,000 confiscated during a traffic stop. Why? Because she had an ounce of marijuana in her car and the police either ‘assumed’ that she got the money illegally, or figured that she wouldn’t be able to prove that she got the money legally. Either way, I showed the prosecution that my client had a legitimate source for the cash and persuaded them that they couldn’t prove that the money was from or for an illegal purpose. She got her money back.
Fortunately for Ms. Sanchez Garcia, she has a top-notch attorney on her side and that should help her in her quest for reimbursement.
I have been helping the people of Sonoma, Mendocino Counties and the North Bay prove their case in criminal and personal injury cases for years. If you’ve been accused, abused, and treated unfairly, give me a call or send me an e-mail. I’m glad to help.