In the face of a court order, Sheriff Pat Hedges recently became the latest law enforcement official to grudgingly give back pot seized from a patient with a prescription to use it.
On the last day in April, 53-year-old D. Craig Steffens of San Luis Obispo walked into the property room of the SLO County Sheriff's Department and emerged minutes later with an herbal tea bag containing his pot. He checked "to make sure it's all there." He was satisfied.
It was a seemingly effortless end to a long and familiar battle, according to Steffens, who said that this is the fourth possession charge he's seen dismissed by county courts.
Steffens said he was more concerned with the principal of the matter than the marijuana itself, which amounted to less than an ounce.
"I've had to pay a lot of money and go through a lot of hassle in order just to get this dismissed and get my property back," he said.
Steffens said that his pot was seized after he was cited for smoking it outside of the SLO County Courthouse last year. He said that he produced a state-issued medical marijuana user card, as well as a card certifying him as a caregiver--which means he can provide marijuana to a limited number of other patients--but sheriff's deputies refused to recognize their validity.
After Steffens produced the cards in court, the District Attorney's office dropped a misdemeanor charge, yet sheriff's department officials declined to return Steffens' marijuana, which he said he uses to address ailments in part related to his time in the military.
Steffens' attorney, Lou Koory, requested that the marijuana be returned, but Hedges and county attorneys fought it in court, going so far as to appeal an earlier order demanding return of Steffens' marijuana.
Sheriff's spokesman Rob Bryn said that he was unfamiliar with the finer details of the case, but said that the sheriff was concerned that releasing marijuana could violate federal law and had been trying to wait to see if the California Supreme Court would take up an appeal of a related case. It didn't.
Hedges is only the latest in a series of local law enforcement officials who have been forced by a court to return marijuana to patients who were using it for medical purposes, and Steffens has been involved in many of those cases.
"This issue's been decided. There's really no question that the medical marijuana user has the absolute right to get their property back once they've been exonerated in court," Koory said. "It's just an illustration of how [Hedges] refuses to comply with Proposition 215 even in the face of a State ID card."
While state voters have legalized the use of marijuana for medical purposes, it's still illegal under federal law.