Thursday, January 17, 2008
Lawsuit Says Deputies Targeted Man for Medical Marijuana
CARLSBAD A paraplegic man has sued Eddy County sheriff's deputies, alleging they seized marijuana plants and equipment to grow them despite the fact he has a license under New Mexico's medical marijuana law.
In late August, Leonard French let agents from a regional drug task force into his Malaga home when they told him they were there "about the marijuana.'' According to the American Civil Liberties Union of New Mexico, which represents French, he thought agents were checking his compliance with the medical marijuana law. He showed them his license, his hydroponics equipment, two small marijuana plants and a pipe to smoke marijuana.
Deputies seized the plants and equipment and turned them over to the federal Drug Enforcement Administration. The lawsuit says French later was told the drug task force had closed its case.
He has not been charged with violating any federal drug laws, the ACLU said.
French, who uses a wheelchair and suffers from chronic pain and muscle spasms from a 1987 motorcycle crash, had worked with his doctor and the state to get permission to have marijuana.
"The law cannot succeed if the threat of arrest by county and local law enforcement hangs over participants in the program,'' said Peter Simonson, executive director of the state ACLU.
The lawsuit, filed Thursday in state district court in Carlsbad, seeks unspecified damages for French and a court ruling that deputies violated the medical marijuana law, state forfeiture laws and a constitutional prohibition against unreasonable search and seizure.
The lawsuit was filed against the County Commission; the commander of the Pecos Valley Drug Task Force, David Edmondson; and John Does 1-4, identified as sheriff's deputies.
Cas Tabor, attorney for the county, said Thursday officials have not been served with the lawsuit.
"We haven't seen anything yet,'' he said.
The ACLU said it hopes the lawsuit will clear the way for the state "to implement a sensible, conservative program to apply a drug that traditionally has been considered illicit for constructive purposes.''
Task force officials have said agents did not know French had state permission to use marijuana until after the raid.
The state Department of Health has said officers called after the raid to verify the man's state-issued marijuana ID card. Law enforcement agencies have asked the department to tell them who is certified to have marijuana, but the department said doing so would violate federal patient privacy laws.
The law that took effect last July 1 allows marijuana for pain or other symptoms of debilitating illnesses such as cancer, glaucoma, epilepsy, multiple sclerosis, HIV-AIDS and certain spinal cord injuries. Patients are certified as eligible to possess marijuana.
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