Appeals court: Judge right to order return of medical pot to Colorado Springs cancer patient

December 19, 2013 Updated: December 19, 2013 at 5:45 pm
photo - Advocates for Robert Crouse showed their support in 2012. (The Gazette file)
Advocates for Robert Crouse showed their support in 2012. (The Gazette file) 

The Colorado Court of Appeals ruled Thursday that a 4th Judicial District judge was correct to order Colorado Springs police to return more than 60 pounds of pot to a man who was acquitted at trial of drug charges.

Attorneys for Robert Crouse say the victory adds teeth to a pending lawsuit against the city over the destruction of Crouse's marijuana, which they say spoiled while in police custody - a loss of up to $300,000 worth of what Crouse, who has cancer, calls his medicine.

"I think this means for Mr. Crouse that he should be compensated for the marijuana they destroyed by not returning it," said one of Crouse's attorneys, Clifton Black.

At issue is a provision in the state constitution requiring that police properly care for any pot seized during medical marijuana investigations and that it be returned should the owner be acquitted of wrongdoing.

Despite Crouse's June 2012 victory in the criminal case, prosecutors at the City Attorney's Office and District Attorney's Office argued that returning his marijuana could put police at risk of being prosecuted as drug dealers under the federal Controlled Substances Act, under which pot remains illegal.

District Judge Timothy J. Schutz appeared openly dismissive of the argument in court and repeatedly ordered that Crouse's marijuana be returned.

The Court of Appeals upheld Schutz's ruling in a 2-1 decision, records show.

"They were required under the law to care for the plants and the product and they didn't," said Laura Haynes, an attorney who worked on the issue of Crouse's marijuana alongside Black and fellow Colorado Springs attorney Charles Houghton.

The Crouse case is one of several in El Paso County that raise liability issues for the city because of how police collected evidence related to failed medical marijuana prosecutions.

Doyle Baker, the 4th Judicial District prosecutor who argued the case before the Appeals Court, could not be reached for comment, and it's unclear if prosecutors intend to appeal the matter to the state Supreme Court.

In raiding Crouse's Colorado Springs home, police cut down 55 marijuana plants believed to contain a pound each of formerly usable marijuana and seized six pounds of refined pot.

Crouse's attorneys argued at trial that he used the marijuana in the production of extracts needed for an experimental cancer treatment.

They said his possession was consistent with the legal requirement that he not exceed a "medically necessary" supply.

Reached by phone at his Green Mountain Falls home, Crouse called the ruling a victory for patients' rights and the idea that medical marijuana should be treated no differently from other private property when it comes to seizure laws.

"I'm encouraged by it," he said. "This whole thing is something that should have been resolved a long time ago."

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