Fights over medical marijuana case evidence could be costly

January 4, 2013
photo - 
	 Photo by Gazette file
Photo by Gazette file 

A medical marijuana grower acquitted of drug-cultivation charges at a December trial wants Colorado Springs police to return her marijuana — or fork over $3.3 million in compensation.

The request by Alvida Hillery is the latest sign that failed medical marijuana prosecutions in El Paso County might end up costing taxpayers.

Hillery, founder of the Rocky Mountain Miracles medical marijuana dispensary at 2316 E. Bijou St. in the city’s Knob Hill neighborhood, was found not-guilty of felony drug charges after a three-day trial last month.

The El Paso County District Attorney’s Office has until Monday to respond to a Dec. 16 motion demanding the return of Hillery’s marijuana — 36 pounds of refined marijuana and 604 plants seized during a March 2012 raid by Colorado Springs police and the state Medical Marijuana Enforcement Division.

If the marijuana isn’t returned — or ends up being spoiled — Hillery is entitled to recoup $3,327,460, according to her attorney, Sean McAllister of Denver. McAllister said he used Drug Enforcement Agency standards to determine the value.

“I think there is a possibility of a lawsuit against both the Colorado Springs Police Department and the Medical Marijuana Enforcement Division,” he said.

Hillery is among several Colorado Springs medical marijuana growers who prevailed at trial in El Paso County last year, potentially raising the same or similar liability issues for police and the city.

Colorado law requires the “immediate return” of medical marijuana in the event of a jury’s not-guilty finding, McAllister argues in his legal motion. His motion also cites a recent Colorado Court of Appeals decision that ordered the return an estimated 60 pounds of marijuana to Robert Crouse, a Colorado Springs cancer patient who was acquitted in June of felony drug charges.

Prosecutors previously fought the issue, saying it could put law enforcement officers in jeopardy of being charged as drug dealers.

Fourth Judicial District Judge Timothy J. Schutz rejected that argument and ordered the pot be returned. In response, prosecutors requested an emergency hearing before the Appeals Court, which also sided with Crouse.

Crouse’s marijuana – initially valued at $300,000 – developed mold while in Colorado Springs police custody, and is unusable. Crouse uses marijuana concentrates in the treatment of his leukemia.

Crouse filed notice on Dec. 27 of his intent to sue the city and Colorado Springs police and the El Paso County Sheriff’s Office, which staff the county’s multijurisdictional Metro Narcotics, Vice and Intelligence Unit.

Threats of legal action are only the latest headache related to the marijuana prosecutions.

Colorado Springs police say they spent nearly $100,000 in the past eight years on drug-related storage problems — including clean-up of evidence rooms tainted by mold spores and mildew from rotting marijuana plants.

Police spokeswoman Barbara Miller said employees who worked in evidence reported headaches, difficulty breathing and skin rashes.

Miller couldn’t provide an update Friday about the Police Department’s plans regarding Hillery’s marijuana.

Contact Lance Benzel: 636-0366 Twitter @lancebenzel

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