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Our chief areas of interest include drug policy reform, women in prison, racial injustice, the impact of incarceration on children and families, the problems associated with re-entry and stopping the practice of using private prisons in our state.

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Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Did the Plants Survive?

A Fort Collins couple arrested last summer after police found marijuana in their home will get their property back, a judge ruled Monday afternoon.

"I'm very satisfied," said James Masters, who looked a bit dazed following the decision. "I don't even know where to begin."

On Aug. 2, 2006, the Larimer County Drug Task Force removed 39 plants from the home of James and Lisa Masters. The plants were seen while officers accompanied child welfare workers to the home.

The couple told police the marijuana was medicinal and was grown for their use, as well as the use of other patients for whom they acted as caregivers.

The criminal charges were dropped in June after Chief District Court Judge James Hiatt concluded the affidavit for a search warrant was drafted based on an illegal search.

Defense attorney Brian Vicente argued Monday that he'd presented "real, tangible and significant evidence" that the couple was committed to the well-being of their patients and that they were caregivers for their clients, even if they hadn't been formally designated as such.

And Hiatt agreed, ruling that the couple was entitled to get back their property, including the seized plants.

"It's pretty clear to this court he (James Masters) took this role (as caregiver) very seriously," Hiatt said.

Prosecutor Michael Pierson had argued that providing medical marijuana and the occasional ride to a doctor's appointment did not constitute being a primary caregiver.

Pierson also argued the property - which he called contraband - should not be returned because the Masterses had not followed the provisions of the amendment by not having medical marijuana certificates and not being designated as caregivers on their patients' certificates.

This could have been a fatal flaw had the hearing been part of a criminal proceeding, but was not in the request for return of property, Hiatt said.

Pierson did not comment after the hearing.

But the case is not yet over.

The couple will likely retrieve their property - paraphernalia and growing equipment - later this week, but the fate of the plants is not yet known for sure.

Neither Vicente nor Pierson knew definitively where the plants are or if they had been destroyed.

Lt. Craig Dodd, who heads the drug task force, was not in the office Monday but has previously said they do not have the resources or space to maintain marijuana plants seized in potential medical marijuana cases.

If the plants have been destroyed, Vicente said they'll seek financial compensation for the plants, which could be in excess of $100,000.


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