In the early days of the medical-marijuana boom, though it wasn't a distinction he sought, Bob Crouse became the patron saint of El Paso County cannabis patients. Crouse, who suffers from leukemia, was 63 in 2011 when a trial began over charges of cultivation and distribution after police raided his home grow.
He was found not guilty in June 2012, adding to a string of failures in District Attorney Dan May's crusade against medical marijuana.
Despite Crouse's innocence, the Colorado Springs Police Department balked at returning his property: in all, some 55 cannabis plants, which had been ruined, and 6.5 pounds of plant matter. Crouse filed an ultimately unsuccessful civil suit against the city to reclaim it in January 2013. Earlier, in November 2012, El Paso County District Judge Timothy Schutz found the department's refusal a violation of Amendment 20 and ordered CSPD to return it, which they did. On behalf of the department, May's office continued the case, appealing it to the Colorado Court of Appeals and losing in December 2013.
And so May is appealing Schutz's ruling once again, this time to the Colorado Supreme Court, which last month agreed it would hear May's argument, the Independent has learned. The state's highest court announced its decision to take the case on June 15, the same day it delivered its opinion upholding Dish Network's firing of medical-marijuana patient Brandon Coats for off-duty marijuana use.
This time May is seeking a definitive answer to whether or not police are in violation of the Controlled Substances Act — and thus vulnerable to federal prosecution — if they return confiscated cannabis to medical users who have been acquitted, a practice mandated in Amendment 20: "Marijuana and paraphernalia seized by state or local law enforcement ... shall be returned immediately upon ... acquittal."
Indeed, the justices have marijuana on the brain, says Clifton Black, a local defense attorney on Crouse's pro-bono legal team.
"I think what is happening is the Supreme Court is saying, 'OK, marijuana is a big issue now. We need to start making some decisions on it. We need to start making some rulings and reviewing these cases,'" Black says.
When it comes to the fear of feds prosecuting law enforcement officials for returning unlawfully seized cannabis, Black and Co. have argued that the wording of the Controlled Substances Act is clear, saying "any duly authorized officer of any State ... who shall be lawfully engaged in the enforcement of any law ... relating to controlled substances" is immune from just such a prosecution.
Two-to-one, the Court of Appeals agreed, in 2013. It's unknown when the Colorado Supreme Court will hear the case, though both sides' arguments are due to the court in upcoming weeks. "This will be a decision that we hope will bring clarity to a muddled area of the law — and will be important for future cases," writes May's office spokeswoman Lee Richards, in an email.
CSPD spokeswoman Lt. Catherine Buckley echoes the sentiment: "The Colorado Springs Police Department is looking forward to any guidance which the Colorado Supreme Court can provide in reference to this case and similar ones."
Crouse continues to do well, says Black, who adds his client is "still very adamant about the positive effects of cannabis on his cancer."
Black can't speculate about how the Supreme Court might lean on the issue, but he draws no parallels to Coats' case.
"Mr. Coats lost at every level," Black says. "On Bob Crouse's case — the return of the marijuana — we've won at every level."