More MS news articles for April 1999

California police forced to return marijuana

(Last updated 4:36 PM ET April 23)

UKIAH, Calif. (Reuters) - Christopher Brown sauntered into the Ukiah sheriff's office Thursday and walked out with a half pound bag of marijuana.

In what is believed to be one of the first cases in the United States of someone legally retrieving a drug stash seized by law enforcement, Brown's victory marked a turning point in California's battle over medical marijuana, his lawyer said.

"It's the first time a person has walked out of a police station with marijuana legally in their hands," attorney Hannah Nelson told Friday's Santa Rosa Press Democrat. "The fact is that the marijuana was being used legally and he has a right to it."

Local drug agents confiscated Brown's marijuana during a 1997 raid on his house in Willits, about 120 miles north of San Francisco.

Brown took his case to the California Supreme Court, saying he was using the marijuana in line with Proposition 215, California's first-in-the-nation law that legalized the use of marijuana for the treatment of pain and symptoms of serious diseases such as AIDS and cancer.

Now 37, Brown says he smokes up to two marijuana cigarettes a day to alleviate chronic pain from injuries suffered in a motorcycle accident.

The state Supreme Court justices dismissed the government's contention that any order forcing police to return the marijuana would transform officers into "drug pushers" and ordered the stash worth about $2,000 handed back to Brown.

"We do definitely see this as a big deal," Gina Pesulima of Americans for Medical Rights, a California-based group that has pushed for state measures legalizing medical marijuana around the country, said Friday.

"We think it's great because it's what we'd like to see eventually in California and other places ... we'd like to see law enforcement on board," she said.

Brown said Thursday that he hoped his case would open the way for more people to get their marijuana back from the police and use it according to California state law -- under doctor's orders.

"It feels good. I feel I've stood up for a lot of people who need marijuana for medical reasons," Brown told the Press Democrat.