What do police and prosecutors do when pot is illegal? Easy question. Even though a recent Suffolk University/Boston Herald poll found that a majority of Massachusetts voters support legalization, cops and prosecutors will keep treating people who smoke pot like criminals as long as it's illegal. “The law is the law,” or so the saying goes. But what about when pot is legal? What do police and prosecutors do then?
As it turns out, they still treat people who smoke pot like criminals even when it's legal.
Here's a story from Cape Cod Times about a man who was arrested for having legal medical marijuana:
A Falmouth man with a medical marijuana certificate is battling the Braintree Police Department to get back 1.5 ounces of marijuana and $1,200 in cash that officers confiscated after he was arrested in April 2013.
Derick Eaton, 31, was arrested in the South Shore Mall parking lot and charged with marijuana and hash possession and distribution despite his certificate from Cannamed Doctors in Framingham that says he can use marijuana to address anxiety and knee and back pain.
Police did not take his condition seriously, he said in an interview last week.
"They laughed and said, 'There's no such thing as medical marijuana,'" he recalled.
In early August, after several court appearances, Quincy District Judge John Stapleton dismissed the charges against Eaton and two other men arrested at the same time who also had medical marijuana certificates.
Eaton then went to the Braintree police station with a judge's order for the return of his money and medical marijuana. Police initially put him off, saying the property officer was on vacation, he said. Ultimately they simply refused his request.
Braintree Deputy Police Chief Wayne Foster said his department sought guidance from the office of Norfolk County District Attorney Michael Morrissey.
"We were kind of confused when he came in with a judge's order," Foster said Thursday. "We asked the DA. The district attorney's office said there was no way we were going to give drugs back to a drug dealer. And police took the money as proceeds from drug sales."
To summarize: the police arrested a man for no reason, then pilfered his medicine and all the cash they could find on him. The district attorney, rather than prosecuting the cops responsible for this, is telling the cops to keep the loot even though a judge ordered them to return it.
It doesn't look like this is the first time that the justice system has failed Eaton either:
Eaton admits he has served time in the past for drug-related convictions. He was indicted and convicted for drug trafficking and was in jail for two years. But he said Thursday that those were based on false evidence related to the Annie Dookhan drug-lab scandal. He was released from jail while the cases are pending but said he hopes to have the convictions expunged from his record.
Massachusetts cops treating medical marijuana patients like criminals isn't anything new. The Boston Globe ran a story mentioning several similar cases earlier this year. I also interviewed a medical marijuana patient who had his medicine taken away by the state police earlier this year.
The bottom line is that many cops and prosecutors are simply more interested in persecuting people who smoke weed than they are in the law or public safety.
According to Cape Cod Times:
Boston attorney Valerio Romano, who has handled several cases for medical marijuana patients charged with possession, said the charges are ultimately dismissed but it can take several months.
Police are resisting the legalization of the drug for medical purposes, Romano said. He called Eaton's situation "classic."
Romano said he is representing another certificate holder with dismissed charges who is attempting to get back the medical marijuana from the police department that made the arrest. "There is a judge's order for the return of the property," Romano said. "They keep saying the property officer is out of town, but so far they haven't refused."
We've seen the same pattern with the 2008 marijuana decriminalization law. The Suffolk County District Attorney's Office has been so eager to throw pot smokers in jail that they attempted to convict a teenager of possession with intent to sell (a felony) after cops found him with less than an ounce of pot, which is only supposed to result in a $100 fine. When the Supreme Judicial Court sided with the teen late last year, a spokesman for the district attorney whined that the ruling would lead to people getting away with selling drugs.
This is all pretty sad because there are real problems (unsolved murders come to mind) that cops and prosecutors could be addressing if they could just get over their bizarre obsession with a harmless plant.
Thankfully, with public opinion rapidly turning against pot prohibition, it's only a matter of time before they'll have to.
Update (8/27/14): After this post was published, the district attorney apparently agreed to give Eaton back his money, but not his medicine. According to a post on his Facebook page:
The Braintree prosecutor asked me to " call off all the medical marijuana advocates that have had courthouse inundated with phone calls today asking why they are refusing court order". I'm proud to say they returned my money today. They are fighting me on my medicine. Then a fight they will get!! I already won, they just can't take a loss.
In a comment under this post, Eaton thanked the Examiner.
The Braintree Police Department also posted a press release on Facebook yesterday after receiving a number of comments about the story, some including links to this post:
The Norfolk District Attorney’s Office and Braintree Police Department have received a number of inquiries regarding the Quincy District Court case of Commonwealth v. Derick Eaton.
Eaton was charged with two counts of possession to distribute class C hashish, one count of distribution of class D marijuana and one count of conspiracy to violate the drug law. The charges were dismissed due to the enactment of Chapter 369 of the Acts of 2012, An Act for the Humanitarian Medical Use of Marijuana.
As this is an active case, both the Norfolk District Attorney’s Office and the Braintree Police Department are constrained from offering direct comment. However, we are attaching the Commonwealth’s Motion to Reconsider which was filed in Quincy District Court this afternoon.