"FBI! Get on the floor!"
Those were the words Roger Spohn said he heard as four gunmen masquerading as federal agents stormed into his Wallingford home.
The men wanted one thing: marijuana -- which Spohn was growing plenty of for legal medical use -- and they took off with several pounds of it.
But when Seattle police responded to the home invasion call, Spohn didn't get sympathy or protection. Rather, according to him, a bigger crime was committed.
Officers and detectives moved in and hauled away hundreds of marijuana plants that were a part of a large growing operation inside the house.
Spohn, who is legally able to grow up to 15 plants for medical use, said he was cultivating a larger amount for fellow medical marijuana patients.
"Every patient can't grown their own 15 plants. It's fairly difficult getting them to root and keeping them alive," he said.
Growing good, medical-grade marijuana is not easy, according to Spohn. But patients with terminal or debilitating health conditions rely on it.
No matter, Spohn was detained for hours as police chopped up the plants and stuffed them inside bags.
"It was pretty terrible. I really felt negative about it," he said.
Medical marijuana attorney Douglas Hiatt described Spohn's experience as "ridiculous."
"They shouldn't be confiscating it in the first place. It's only going to sick people. None of it is being diverted. None of it is being sold on the open market," he said.
Hiatt said Seattle police recently changed its tone on confiscating marijuana even if it's being grown for medical purposes.
For years, he says there's been an understanding about how some places have larger growing operations. But that policy of acceptance is apparently not being followed now.
"A lot of patients that band together to grow their medicine together," Hiatt said. "So when you come into a situation like this, you're not dealing with one person's medicine; you're dealing with as many as a hundred or more."
Advocates say an incident like this fuels an already severe shortage of medical marijuana.
Police and prosecutors refused to comment on the confiscated plants and whether the Seattle Police Department has, in fact, adopted a new policy on medical marijuana confiscation.
May 27, 2009 -- Seattle Times (WA)
Marijuana Grower Loses To Robbers, Then Police
A Wallingford resident who operates a medical-marijuana-growing site for himself and other ill patients saw his crop of drugs raided twice on Tuesday - once by police.
By Jennifer Sullivan and Nancy Bartley, Seattle Times staff reporters
A Wallingford resident who operates a medical-marijuana-growing site for himself and other ill patients saw his crop of drugs raided twice Tuesday - once by police.
Mark Spohn, 48, called police after four men dressed like FBI agents burst into his home around 11 a.m., according to his attorney Douglas Hiatt.
During the robbery, Spohn and a group of assistants from a medical-marijuana education group were ordered to the floor at gunpoint, Hiatt said.
When Seattle police arrived at the home in the 3800 block of Wallingford Avenue North and found Spohn had more than the 15 marijuana plants allowed under state Department of Health guidelines, much of the grow was disassembled.
The state sets the supply limit for medical marijuana at 24 ounces of usable marijuana plus 15 plants. Spohn had more than 100 plants, Hiatt said.
Police removed all but 15 of them.
Hiatt, who has many medical-marijuana clients, maintains he and former Seattle police Chief Gil Kerlikowske had an agreement that the 15-plant rule was not going to be implemented.
He said the agreement was known at the King County Prosecutor's Office, the King County Sheriff's Office, the American Civil Liberties Union and law-enforcement agencies around the region.
Hiatt said he believes that when Kerlikowske left the department in late April to head the federal Office of National Drug Control Policy, the agreement was not put into place by Interim Chief John Diaz.
Seattle police Sgt. Sean Whitcomb said the department has not changed its policy and that officers Tuesday were acting on recommendations from the Prosecutor's Office.
Whitcomb said Spohn wasn't arrested and that the case has been forwarded to the Prosecutor's Office for review.
In an interview late last year, County Prosecutor Dan Satterberg told The Seattle Times his office looks upon medical-marijuana cases "with a very lenient eye."
Ian Goodhew, deputy chief of staff at the office, said Tuesday that Spohn's case will be reviewed to determine whether he should be warned or charged criminally.
Goodhew said if his office finds that a registered medical-marijuana patient has more than 15 plants, he or she will be issued a warning. If a patient is caught a second time, he or she will be prosecuted.
"The medical-marijuana statute does not allow for a group-grow situation," Goodhew said. "Our [state] guidelines say one person can be a certified medical-marijuana provider and provide to one patient."
Hiatt said he plans to set up meetings with local law enforcement, Satterberg's office and others to discuss what happened Tuesday.
In the meantime, he is warning medical-marijuana users to keep their activities low key.
Information from The Times archives is contained in this
We are careful not to duplicate the efforts of other organizations, and as a grassroots coalition of prisoners and social reformers, our resources (time and money) are limited. The vast expertise and scope of the various drug reform organizations will enable you to stay informed on the ever-changing, many-faceted aspects of the movement. Our colleagues in reform also give the latest drug war news. Please check their websites often.