Feds Defy Court Order, Don’t Return Medical Cannabis

November 8, 2014

By Terrie Best, San Diego Americans for Safe Access

BabbetBabbettee and Matt 3te Kurtz, a resident of northern California got a taste of border town, USA when she, a state legal cannabis patient, was stopped and arrested while her Jeep, medical cannabis and possessions were confiscated at a US Border Patrol checkpoint in San Diego County.  The stop happened in April of this year and the case was forwarded to District Attorney, Bonnie Dumanis for prosecution.  Many in the community of San Diego rallied around Babbette and though she endured 10 days in jail and several court dates, charges of possession of her legal cannabis medicine were dropped for lack of evidence. And so began the long and strange attempt to get her Jeep and property back from the federal government.

Matthew Shapiro, from the Law Offices of Michael Cindrich, worked to get the dismissal and then filed a motion with El Cajon’s Superior Court to grant the return of Babbette’s Jeep, cannabis medicine and other property.  The judge signed the order but, tricky for Matt, would be getting the US Border Patrol, or “The Department of Homeland Security Customs and Border Protection” – as they are now calling themselves – to return the cannabis. After some confused sputtering on the other end of the phone when Matt called for a pick-up appointment, it was summarily determined by the woman who answered that the federal government does NOT return cannabis, not even with an order signed by a judge.

And, apparently the Department of Homeland Security doesn’t want to be sBabbette hold harmless docued for confiscating cannabis against a court order either.  The representative Matt was referred to, in the DHS’s asset forfeiture department, appeared to want to strike a bargain with Matt’s client. The deal: sign a “hold harmless” document absolving the feds of any and all liability and they’ll waive hundreds of dollars in tow and storage fees and return everything but the medicine. The cannabis would be forfeited to the department’s asset forfeiture division. Babbette would also be required to pay $100 in “penalties.”

None of us ever thought Babbette would get her meds back from the Department of Homeland Security and she really needed her Jeep and its contents so she accepted the offer. I was invited to go along and watch the federal government refuse a court order and, of course, help Babbette, with her car that had been sitting in impound for six months.

The day started with us needing to be on the opposite side of barbed wire fence which said “Warning, Moving Gate Can Cause Death,” beyond was a maze of barracks. Once we got pSecurity gateassed the homicidal gate, we were in the DHS compound and we found building “24.”  Babbette signed the government’s hold harmless document and received everything she needed to get her car out of an impound lot a few miles away.  This made her very happy and we tried not to think about her meds or the seriously scary compound we were in. I am reminded of the eco-activists being held without trial by the very people who just so agreeably gave Babbette her car back. I think of the Patriot Act.

If the DHS compound was hard to find, where Babbette’s car was stored was ridiculous. We were looking for an address with no business name in an area full of tow and auction yards.  It turns out the DHS owns a parcel of land down near the border and sat an auction lot on it. They contract Robertson Auto Auctions to hold cars confiscated by Uncle Sam and then sell them to the public at auction – a nasty business that has to be fraught with government corruption. Homeland security

Though she got her car out, Babbette has really suffered and was badly frightened the day it was taken and she was arrested. She was held at a federal detention for two days, then transferred to Los Colinas, county jail. She wasn’t allowed to make a call for five days which frightened her even more. Her family had no idea where she was and she didn’t know how she was going to post bail.  She was facing felony transportation charges and possession of concentrated cannabis and had a very unresponsive public defender. Babbette endured several court dates, and a real fear of prison, given that the feds were involved. Plus, the officers began being untruthful about the quantity of cannabis found in attempt to weaken and upset her. She was terrified by the time she hired a lawyer.

So, victories such as posting bail, dismissed charges and getting her belongings back were a great relief. Happily, her car started with a battery jump, which astounded us all in light of the cut wires and pulled kick panels in the interior of it.  That, combined with finding her guitar undamaged, made her so happy we had to take pictures.

Babbette is a kind, talented woman with soft brown eyes.  A lot of us wanted to help her. Matthew Shapiro worked hard on this case and when I asked him for a quote, he took it very seriously. He had this to say about the current climate for patients:

Babbette and Matt 2The laws pertaining to medical marijuana are rapidly changing. It is important for everyone to remain aware of the current state of the law. Patients, law enforcement officers, prosecuting and defense attorneys, and even judges should make a good faith effort to stay informed of developments in the law to avoid the egregious waste and misuse of public resources when it comes to the hotly debated topic of marijuana legalization. I should hope that our client’s personal suffering should not be for naught. This case should serve as a reminder that attempts to put medical marijuana patients in prison might not be the best allocation of our increasingly limited resources.

I wish Babbette luck and hope she heals from her ordeal. She stayed very strong and I was so glad to see an outcome that didn’t involve prison.

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