SF Federal Court Rules Warrantless Medical Marijuana Raids in Lake County Violate U.S. Constitution
October 15, 2014 - Federal District Court Judge Thelton Henderson ruled yesterday that medical marijuana patients have demonstrated a strong likelihood of prevailing at trial on their claim that law enforcement raids in Lake County unconstitutionally violate their Fourth Amendment rights. The ruling stems from a lawsuit filed earlier this year in San Francisco federal court, challenging Lake County’s enforcement of Measure N, an ordinance that restricts medical marijuana cultivation in the county.
Judge Henderson ordered that, "Defendant County of Lake, its officers, agents, and employees, and any other persons acting in active concert or participation therewith, are enjoined from enforcing Ordinance No. 2997 [Measure N] through warrantless searches or summary abatement actions without consent, unless doing so is necessary to prevent immediate physical harm to persons or property, the destruction of evidence for a criminal case, or the escape of a criminal suspect."
The Court also held that, "[d]enying the preliminary injunction would leave numerous medical marijuana patients in Lake County vulnerable to future warrantless seizures of their medicine, which could lead to significant pain and suffering," and that in this circumstance, "the protection of constitutional rights and the guarantee of access to state-recognized medicine tilts the scales in favor of Plaintiffs."
The plaintiffs in the lawsuit were all raided over the past several weeks, including 60-year-old patient Mona Allen who was growing six mature plants, 66-year-old patient Carl Ray Harris who was growing nine plants, and 70-year-old patient Nina Faye Sikes who, together with her elderly husband, was growing 14 immature plants. Lake County law enforcement broke through several gates, entering the property of qualified patients without consent, and seizing medical marijuana without a warrant.
The court wrote, "Also, Plaintiffs put forward evidence, in the form of a declaration from the Director of the California Chapter of NORML, that it is common for California’s medical marijuana patients who have lost marijuana plants to secure new 'starter' plants, which could be a target of additional law enforcement seizures this year. Further, Gieringer claims to have received numerous complaints from medical marijuana patients in the County of Lake about warrantless searches and seizures of their marijuana plants, as well as complaints from unabated patients in the County who fear seizure of their medical marijuana in the coming months.
"In short, while Plaintiffs were denied a TRO based on their failure to adequately demonstrate a likelihood of irreparable injury absent the issuance of injunctive relief, they have successfully done so in the intervening weeks."
"This is a tremendous victory for the medical marijuana patients of Lake County, who no longer have to live in fear that police officers will raid their property without a warrant and unlawfully seize their medicine," said Joe Elford, a San Francisco-based lawyer who filed the civil lawsuit with attorney Jeremy Blank. "This ruling should send a clear message to law enforcement that they are not above the law." Elford contended in the federal lawsuit that the Lake County Sheriff’s Office has been conducting paramilitary-style raids without warrants or proper abatement notices required by law.
Measure N, which restricts medical marijuana cultivation for qualified patients, was narrowly adopted in June with less than 52 percent of the vote, after the county’s aggressive enforcement practices were successfully challenged in August 2012. A preliminary injunction was granted against Lake County in that case, which was brought by medical marijuana patient Don Merrill and three other patients on behalf of all medical marijuana patients in Lake County whose due process rights were being violated.
Lake County advocates successfully placed Measure O on the November ballot, which would rescind Measure N, the county's current medical marijuana regulations and restrictions approved by voters in June 2014. If approved, advocates say that Measure O would establish new medical marijuana regulations more suited to the needs of patients.