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Appellate court blocks return of marijuana to Springs man

By: MATT STEINER
November 9, 2012
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	 Photo by Gazette file
Photo by Gazette file 

An emergency hearing and a speedy ruling by a district court judge Friday was not enough for Bob Crouse to get his medical marijuana back.

Crouse and his attorney Cliff Black were again poised for a 4:30 p.m trip to the Colorado Springs Police Operations Center to get back 6 pounds of refined marijuana and more than 50 pot plants seized by officers more than a year ago in a criminal case that ended with an acquittal.

The trip was cancelled about 3:30 p.m., after Colorado Court of Appeals Chief Judge Janice Davidson signed an emergency stay, blocking the lower court ruling that ordered the marijuana’s return.

“This had already been resolved,” Crouse said. “I don’t know why we have to keep doing this and wasting money."

Friday marked the second time in two weeks Crouse tried to get his medical marijuana back from the police. He and Black were joined at the station Nov. 2 by about a dozen supporters after 4th Judicial District Court Judge Timothy Schutz signed an order telling police to return the seized marijuana. Police refused to give the marijuana back, citing orders from District Attorney Dan May.

Police arrested Crouse, who is battling leukemia, on felony drug charges in 2011. He was acquitted of the crimes in late June.

The Nov. 2 refusal and a notice of appeal filed by the DA’s office Thursday afternoon prompted the emergency hearing in Schutz’s courtroom on Friday.

After hearing arguments by the DA’s office, the judge ruled just after 1:30 p.m. that the order was still in full effect and a refusal to return the pot would mean contempt charges.

“How can I conclude that holding the evidence for another year will not substantially injure Mr. Crouse?” Schutz said, noting that the marijuana has medicinal and economic value to Crouse and the appeal process could take about 12 months.

The judge went further, stating that he believes the DA’s office was simply protecting itself and the city against possibly liability suits for spoiling the marijuana. Assistant city attorney Erik Lamphere argued that civil action against Colorado Springs could ensue if Crouse’s marijuana deteriorated or was damaged.

Doyle Baker, an appellate attorney for the DA’s office, said police could face federal prosecution for distribution of marijuana if they gave Crouse back his property. He repeatedly emphasized conflicts between the federal Controlled Substance Act and Colorado state law.

Schutz said medical marijuana has been legal in Colorado and in El Paso County for “quite some time.” He questioned why the federal government had not charged patients for possession, asking why federal authorities would “skip over them and choose to prosecute law enforcement.”

“Right now I’ve got to get back to the office and decide what to do next,” Baker said after the hearing.

“I’m disappointed that the District Attorney’s office and the Colorado Springs police want to continue to deprive (Crouse) of his medication and continue to go after a cancer patient,”
Black said after the Court of Appeals granted the stay.

The court order Oct. 30 was meant to uphold Colorado’s Amendment 20, Schutz said during Friday’s hearing. It wasn’t tied to Colorado Amendment 64, approved by voters Tuesday, which legalizes possession of up to an ounce of marijuana and regulated distribution of the drug.

Amendment 20 states that medical marijuana seized by law enforcement officials “shall be returned immediately” upon acquittal, meaning that Crouse should have gotten his property back in June.

“The Colorado Constitution is our law and they should be representing that,” Crouse said of prosecutors.

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