On Dec. 29, nearly a year after Grover Beach police seized 20.4 grams of medical cannabis from Arroyo Grande patient Ken Parson, Superior Court Judge Michael Duffy ordered the return of that property.
However, when Parson and his attorney, Lou Koory, called the department to execute the order that afternoon, police said they weren't quite ready yet. The weekend passed and the department entered the new year with a new position: No way, Jose.
Grover Beach Chief of Police Jim Copsey told New Times on Jan. 2 that the city was in the process of "evaluating the order," and would not return the property until that process was complete. Copsey would not disclose the timetable or process for review, though he mentioned it would require consultation with city counsel.
Koory responded by hauling the matter back into court with a fresh writ, this time demanding punitive action against the city for violating a court order.
"The only remedy at this point is to seek contempt of court," Koory said on Jan. 3. "I'm not going to wait around for them to formulate a strategy on how to attack this order."
Contacted the morning after Koory filed with the court, Grover City assistant city attorney Larry Donaldson declined to comment on the newest turn in the ongoing case.
Having spent roughly 10 months in the evidence locker, the property has likely grown so arid as to make it unusable. Parson joked after the issuance of the order that the stash probably constituted a fire hazard. Yet, for both sides, the matter proves more one of morality and precedent.
"It's about thousands of law-abiding patients deadly afraid of getting a letter from the police," Parson said of his experience.
The patient was not arrested at the original point of seizure but was informed weeks later of the GCPD's intent to press charges.
"When [the notification of criminal charges] happened, it was like a building fell on me," Parson said.
Chief Copsey alluded briefly to the order's insolubility with federal drug law, but, again, declined to comment further.
During a routine traffic stop in February 2006, officers took the marijuana as contraband, claiming that Parson lacked the proper medical paperwork to possess it. Later walking into headquarters and brandishing his doctor's letter, the patient informally demanded the return of his property. Sometime after Parson believed in direct response to his complaint the department decided to press charges for misdemeanor possession.
When charges sputtered out in May, Parson, now with legal couns el, again requested return of the property. Duffy originally determined that requiring police to fork over the confiscated property would violate federal laws, which universally regard marijuana as a Schedule I narcotic. Substances in this category are maintained by the Food and Drug Administration to hold no medicinal value.
Therefore, law enforcement almost universally contends, to issue an order against police would force officers to violate either one law or another. Duffy agreed.
While his case awaited appellate attention, the tide for Parson turned when Judge Dodie Harman issued a return-of-property order to San Luis Obispo police after charges materialized against Cal Poly student and patient Ben Breschini on Aug. 23. The appellate panel echoed Harman's ruling which dealt with a greater amount of marijuana and substantially graver charges than did the Parson case and overturned Duffy's denial of the return-of-property motion.
"We had to go to court, for this long, to expedite a 10-year-old law," Koory commented days before learning of the latest challenge.
All over the nation, the conflict between standing federal code and the medical marijuana laws drafted in several American states has prompted some strange judicial activity on both the large and small scale. On Dec. 6, the counties of San Diego, San Bernardino, and Merced failed in their joined attempt to strike at the voter-endorsed Compassionate Use Act, which legalized medical cannabis in California in 1996.
The judge in that case declared that the legal arena is not the proper place to discuss a substance's medicinal value.
San Luis Obispo County Supervisors opted not to challenge the legislation, instead implementing medical identification cards in November. The first medical marijuana dispensary in the county opened in Morro Bay this past spring after the City of Atascadero effectively denied the institution entry to the waterfront of the El Camino Real.
Rather than adopting an outright ban like some cities including Grover Beach Atascadero placed restrictions on the then-prospective dispensary that owner Charles C. Lynch argued would have rendered the facility useless.