(CN) – A medical marijuana user can seek damages in civil court after a Butte County sheriff’s deputy ordered him to destroy all but 12 of the 41 pot plants he was growing for himself and six other medical marijuana patients, a California appeals court ruled.
David Williams and the other patients pooled their money and labor to grow medical marijuana and split the crop. The marijuana was grown at Williams’ home.
In September 2005, a Butte County sheriff’s deputy came to Williams’ house without a warrant and ordered him to destroy all but 12 plants, under threat of arrest or prosecution, Williams claimed.
The deputy was allegedly acting under a county policy to allow collective cultivation only if each member actively participates in the planting, watering, pruning or harvesting.
Williams sued the county, the sheriff’s office and the deputy, alleging constitutional violations. He said the county’s policy violates a state law shielding users who grow their medical marijuana collectively, so long as the grower possesses no more than six mature plants or 12 immature plants per qualified member.
The county argued that Williams cannot seek damages in civil court under the state’s Compassionate Use Act of 1996. It said the law protects medical marijuana users from criminal prosecution, but does not grant them a constitutional right to marijuana. Williams’ only option was to refuse to destroy the plants and to prove the legality of the patient collective in criminal court, the county claimed.
The trial court overruled the county’s demurrer, saying it “appears that … the Legislature intended collective cultivation of medical marijuana would not require physical participation in the gardening process by all members of the collective, but rather would permit some patients would be able to contribute financially, while others performed the labor and contributed the skills and ‘know-how.'”
The 3rd District Court of Appeals affirmed the ruling against the county, saying Williams had the right to challenge the deputy’s lack of probable cause.
“Williams posits causes of action based on his constitutional right to due process, a right growing out of the administration of criminal law, the very subject of the Act,” Justice Raye wrote.
Dissenting Justice Morrison argued that officers should be held civilly liable for enforcing federal law, which bans the use of all marijuana, even for medical purposes.