Two operators of a Tacoma, Washington medical marijuana dispensary beat drug charges earlier this year. Now they want their cannabis back.
They’ve asked a Pierce County Superior Court judge to return to each of them 48 ounces of harvested marijuana and 30 plants — or their equivalents in cash.
Their attorneys contend that each plant — almost certainly dead now — was worth $3,000 to $3,500.
“Here, it is clear that Mr. Casey is entitled to a return of the property at issue,” his attorney, Aaron Pelley of Seattle, wrote in a pleading filed in Superior Court. “The case has been resolved, and the property is no longer needed as evidence.”
Deputy Prosecutor John Sheeran refused. Schaef and Casey are in violation of Washington’s Medical Use of Marijuana Act, Sheeran claimed in a counter pleading.
Sheeran claimed the men have not proved they’re legitimate medical marijuana patients or providers, and they possessed five times more marijuana than allowed by law when they were arrested.
“A person who takes one step outside the rules set up by the Legislature loses the protections offered by the Act,” the deputy prosecutor claimed.
The two sides are scheduled to argue their case in court on August 9.
The outcome of the case could establish precedent in Washington state, where courts have yet to rule whether forfeiture laws apply to medical marijuana, Casey’s and Schaef’s attorneys wrote in their pleadings.
The two men — good friends as well as business partners — were arrested in May 2010
after agents with the West Sound Narcotics Enforcement Team (WestNET) raided the North End Club 420
cooperative on Oregon Avenue and Casey’s home near Olalla, Washington.
Prosecutors charged Casey with two counts of unlawful delivery of a controlled substance and one count each of unlawful possession of a controlled substance and unlawful manufacture of a controlled substance.
Schaef was charged with three counts of unlawful delivery of a controlled substance and one count each of unlawful possession of a controlled substance with intent to deliver and unlawful manufacture of a controlled substance.
Prosecutors claimed in court records that the men sold marijuana to people not authorized to have it, kept a larger supply on hand than the law allows, and charged exorbitant prices to enrich themselves.
Much of the case was based on the testimony of one confidential informant, who claimed to have witnessed such behavior.
Detectives seized 85 marijuana plants and about 11 pounds of harvested cannabis during the raid, according to Sheeran.
In February, prosecutors dismissed the case
against Schaef and Casey, saying questions about the informant’s truthfulness made the prosecution “untenable.”
“The informant was the basis for this investigation and is an essential witness for the state,” Deputy Prosecutor Jennifer Sievers wrote in paperwork dismissing the charges.
The following month, Casey made a motion for the return of his marijuana and other property seized during the raids. Schaef followed suit in May.
Both men said they first asked the Kitsap County Sheriff’s Department, which is holding the property seized during the raids, to return their property, but were rebuffed.
The men said they and their families were treated badly by task force detectives and suffered emotional and monetary harm as a result of the investigation.
“Mr. Casey and his family, including his children, were held at gunpoint by the drug task force,” Pelley wrote in his pleading. “They were humiliated in front of neighbors, and the Sheriff’s Department issued press releases on the arrest.”
Schaef, a single parent, lost his ho0me as a result of his arrest and the financial burden the case put on him, and had to send his 17-year-old daughter to live with relatives, his attorney, Kent Underwood of Tacoma, wrote in court papers.
“His business reputation was injured by statements that he was not helping sick people but, rather, taking advantage of them,” Underwood wrote.
Sheeran, ignoring the fact that the case against the two men was dropped, claimed they were both “drug dealers” in his recent pleading, which begins, “During the months of March, April and May 2010, Guy L. Casey and Michael J. Schaef repeatedly delivered marijuana in violation of” state law.
The deputy prosecutor repeated the allegations made in the criminal case which had already been abandoned and pointed out that Casey drives a Hummer and has several active bank accounts despite reporting little to no earnings to the government.
Pelley and Underwood said their clients are legitimate medical marijuana patients and providers, and as such are protected by the Medical Use of Marijuana Act. Washington state law allows authorized medical marijuana patients to possess up to 15 plants and 24 ounces of harvested cannabis. Authorized providers can have up to 15 plants and 24 ounces, as well.
The law “specifically provides that qualifying patients and caregivers who are in possession of medical marijuana pursuant to a valid prescription … ‘shall not be penalized in any manner or denied any right or privilege’ as a result of the possession,” Pelley wrote in his pleading.
“Clearly, forfeiture of the medical marijuana and plants legally possessed cannot be considered anything other than a penalty … and that forfeiture cannot therefore be allowed under Washington law,” Pelley wrote.
Underwood wrote that while “there is no specific provision within the state statute for the return of property, not returning the property to Mr. Schaef would go against fundamental fairness.”
Sheeran, meanwhile, continues to claim that neither man has “lived up to the letter of the law” and therefore doesn’t deserve to get any of the marijuana back.
“While each (Casey and Schaef) has a doctor’s note saying he is authorized to use marijuana, it does not specify the specific condition from which he suffers,” the deputy prosecutor wrote, failing to mention that for medical privacy reasons, the law doesn’t require that information in the doctor’s note. “Defendants who fail to establish they have a ‘qualifying condition’ are not entitled to raise the medical marijuana defense.”
Qualifying conditions for medical marijuana under Washington state law include, among others, cancer, HIV, epilepsy, glaucoma, hepatitis C, and diseases that result in nausea, vomiting, seizures and muscle spasms.
|Graphic: North End Club 420
|Menu from the North End Club 420 site. Screen capture taken July 25, 2011.