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Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Police return pot to patient almost 3 years later

'That's a chunk of hash,' Huntington Beach man says.

The Orange County Register

HUNTINGTON BEACH It was like Christmas Day for Jim Spray. He giggled with glee as he tore into brown paper bags as if they were presents.

These bags, however, were filled with jars of his medical marijuana and other paraphernalia that had been stored for nearly three years at the city's police department.

A court order today forced officials to give it back, marking the second time in a year that Huntington Beach police have had to return seized marijuana to a patient after court rulings stated that the marijuana should not have been seized in the first place.

"That's a chunk of hash," said Spray, a 52-year-old trade show decorator from Huntington Beach. A tall, stocky police official watched as the medical marijuana patient inspected a tiny, eye shadow-sized container full of hashish.

"It's still good. I almost forgot about all this," said Spray, who uses medical marijuana because of pain from a herniated disc.

It has been almost three years since Huntington Beach officers confiscated Spray's estimated 4 ounces of marijuana and a $1,000 growing system, which included special lighting and a water-timing system.

While police had destroyed most of the growing equipment, officials returned Spray's marijuana today after an order from Orange County Superior Court Judge Thomas Borris.

The order came nearly nine months after the 4th District Court of Appeal ruled that the city must return Spray's marijuana and equipment taken from his home in November 2005. Spray was represented by attorneys with medical marijuana advocacy group Americans for Safe Access.

The Huntington Beach Police Department doesn't have a policy regarding medical marijuana, officials have said in the past. Officers interpret the Compassionate Use Act as protecting medical marijuana recipients from prosecution, not arrest.

The 1996 law allows people to use medical marijuana in California. Federal law, however, outlaws all marijuana use.

On Aug. 25, state Attorney General Jerry Brown developed guidelines for the first time since the passing of the act. The most notable guideline upholds the legality of medical marijuana dispensaries that operate as nonprofit cooperatives or collectives.

In addition, the new directive essentially tells law enforcement officials that they cannot take marijuana from medical marijuana patients in the first place and are not allowed to charge them if they are carrying less than 8 ounces.

Agencies, such as Huntington Beach, however, are still trying to figure out what to make of Brown's directive, since it is opinion and not law, officials said.

About six months ago, Dave Lucas of Huntington Beach also retrieved his purple urkel – a higher-end marijuana – and a couple of smoking pipes officers confiscated from him more than a year ago.

Lucas retrieved his medical marijuana in April, after waiting for the California Supreme Court to decline to review an appellate court ruling, which ordered Garden Grove police to return seized medical marijuana to Felix Kha.

In November, Kha won the right to get his medical marijuana returned to him. A month later, the same court also ruled in Spray's favor.

"Hopefully, they'll stop taking people's medicine away," Spray said today out loud in the police lobby.

Spray said he plans to file a claim against Huntington Beach because of his destroyed marijuana growing equipment. Medical marijuana advocates Bill Britt and Marvin Chavez Sr., who were there for support, helped Spray with the about half a dozen bags of once-seized pot.

"Do you know how much of a pleasure it is to take medicine from the department?'' said Chavez, a medical marijuana patient and advocate. "It's such a victory."

Contact the writer: 714-445-6688 or