Denver Police Return Medical Marijuana
by Ari Armstrong, March 4, 2005
"This is the first time that drugs have been released to anyone" by the Denver Police Department, Detective Teresa Garcia said today. To comply with a court order, the department returned a bag of marijuana to Thomas Lawrence, a medical patient licensed to use the drug under Colorado law. Colorado voters approved a constitutional amendment in 2000 allowing medical use of marijuana.
Thomas Lawrence carries a bag of medical marijuana returned to him March 4 by the Denver Police Department. See additional photographs below.
Robert Corry, Lawrence's lawyer, said, "The state government has no right to take his medicine from him... The police need an education on Colorado law. There are certain people who have a right to use medical marijuana," if they get a doctor's recommendation and a state license.
Corry called the return of the medicine "a victory for the voters of the state of Colorado." Patients who legally use the drug, he said, "for too long have been living in fear." He called Lawrence's action a courageous step toward protecting the rights of those patients.
Lawrence said the police pulled him over while he was driving late on January 11, at which time they confiscated his medical marijuana. He said, "I had medicine in the car, and I told them I was a patient." He added, "I didn't have my permit on me" when he was stopped. He said the stop was based on improper sticker tags on his license plate, and no charges resulted from the stop. [Update: In a March 10 e-mail, Corry writes, "He was pulled over for having an incorrect license plate on his vehicle, but was not ticketed for that."]
On February 3, Lawrence went to the police station with a court order and asked the police to return the medicine. The police refused. According to Lawrence, staff on hand claimed the order had not been properly signed.
Today Garcia said, "I'm not too specific" about the events of February 3. She added, "It's narcotics, it's a controlled substance, so we have to take every precaution" with returning marijuana to a licensed patient.
Lawrence said of today's events, "They were really polite -- they apologized for the misunderstanding. It was simple; it was like picking up anything else... It was difficult for them to let go of, I guess."
Corry added, "We've got nothing against the police; we support them in their important work." He said the police face a "learning curve" about the relatively new Colorado law, and then "police will be able to do their job and catch the real criminals."
* * *
Ralph Shnelvar and I arrived at the police department shortly after 10:00 am. Corry showed up a little later, and then a crew from Channel 4 News, followed by Lawrence and his wife, Larisa. I met the Lawrences last year, when Corry addressed a meeting of medical marijuana patients. Several months before that, I wrote about a federal drug raid that involved the Lawrences. The Lawrences hired Corry soon after I wrote that article. Thomas reported no new news related to the raid, except that Corry is apparently still working to get the seized property returned.
By around 10:40 am the group had wandered into the lobby. After some consultation with police agents, Thomas used an internal phone in the lobby. He said, "Hi. I need to pick up some property."
Corry wanted to accompany Thomas to the evidence room, but Garcia wouldn't let him. She said, "It's a very secure area."
Corry asked, "You're not going to arrest him, are you?"
Garcia replied, "Oh, no no no no. He'll be right back."
Garcia asked the camera operator for Channel 4 to avoid taping certain officers. The operator assumed that those were undercover narcotics officers. He said, "It can be a life-and-death situation for these guys, so we respect that."
After perhaps ten minutes, Thomas walked back into the lobby carrying a plastic bag that was large for his hand. It contained marijuana and, apparently, a small glass pipe. Thomas as Larisa walked out the front door with clasped hands raised, holding the medicine.
Thomas described the return of his property as "definitely a victory for the patients, the voters, and the people of Colorado."
Larisa said, "I can't stop smiling... We're probably the most law-abiding citizens you'll ever meet."
Thomas did have a final complaint, though, given the medicine had been kept by the police for over a month. "It's a little dryer than I'd like."
See Medical Marijuana in Colorado for links to more articles about this issue.