Originally appeared in Fort Collins Now
12 December 2007
What is it with Fort Collins cops taking the law into their own hands in the Masters case?
No, not the Tim Masters’ murder case, where police and prosecutors are embarrassed almost daily by new revelations of misconduct and withholding evidence. I mean the case of James and Lisa Masters, who apparently threaten the very foundations of western civilization by self-medicating their many and varied ailments with marijuana.
Here are the facts: Fort Collins police arrested the Masters in August 2006 for possession and distribution of marijuana in their home, and seized their plants, their paraphernalia, and their two daughters, who were cruelly separated from their loving parents for two months. The Masters were serving as a local arm of the Colorado Compassion Club, a state network of providers for medical marijuana patients, including themselves. Colorado voters in 2000 agreed to legalize medical marijuana, over the objections of drug war zealots who see the relatively harmless, naturally occurring weed as the devil’s handmaiden. The Masters were not on the official state medical marijuana registry at the time of their arrest, but did have doctor’s recommendations. In January 2006, in a related case, a jury in Gunnison County ruled that doctor’s recommendations were sufficient grounds for medical marijuana use under the state initiative.
The Masters got their daughters back late last year, and this June a county judge declared the police search illegal and dropped all charges. Last month the same judge ruled the Master’s property – pot and all – must be returned to them. The city appealed, and lost again. Finally the cops turned over the plants, which had long since died, with the lame excuse that it wasn’t their responsibility to keep the evidence alive. But according to the Masters’ attorney, under the terms of the voter-mandated state law, that is precisely what they were required to do. The Masters plan to go back to the judge to ask for about $100,000 in damages.
Imagine if the police seized your dog in an illegal raid, held it as evidence, and finally returned it 16 months later – dead. Would their argument that feeding the dog was not their job make you feel any better? I thought not.
It is true that marijuana is still illegal under federal law, and police insist federal law in this matter trumps state and local laws. Funny, I thought conservatives favored more local control, and less federal control. I guess that offer is void where localities take more liberal positions that the feds, whether it comes to gun control, assisted suicide, or victimless crimes like marijuana use. Then our hypocritical “small government” Puritans want Uncle Sam to come in, guns blazing, and put those uppity locals in their place.
Advocates for more rational marijuana laws in Denver are fighting the same battle. Voters there have passed several initiatives to basically decriminalize pot use, but some elements of the police insist they will continue to ignore the will of the people.
There lies the heart of the problem. The job of police officers is to enforce the law, not to write the law or interpret the law, whether they like it or not. Sometimes they act as if they answer to a higher authority, and that actual facts must give way to Truth as they see it. If that requires violating the law, or stretching the facts to frame someone they “just know” is guilty, then so be it. At that point, they have taken the law into their own hands, and become an uncontrolled, rogue force answerable to no one but themselves. In a democracy, where there is no higher authority than We the People, that cannot be allowed to stand.
Besides, with a rampant meth epidemic tearing us apart, why are we wasting ANY time and money on the ridiculous, failed, anachronistic War on Marijuana, whether people are using it as medicine or mild intoxicant?
Poudre Valley Green Eric Fried writes a monthly column for Fort Collins Now.