The exact cost of a marijuana raid in America is hard to put an accurate estimate on. The first, and most important, question is, “the cost to whom?” Besides their livelihood, their reputation in the community, and even one’s freedom, the financial costs of a marijuana raid can be overwhelming to the suspect – whether they are ultimately found guilty, or not.
As marijuana goes more mainstream, however, state and local law enforcement officials are looking to revise their own decades-old procedures when it comes to busting weed growers, before their own departments’ budgets get flipped upside down by pot cultivation cases gone bad.
In years past, regardless of the state you were growing in, if the cops kicked down the door to your grow op, they would pull every plant from the site for ammunition to use in the upcoming case. This evidence would be left in some police department basement, dying by the minute.
But now, with more and more white-collar upper-middle class business types catching heat from the law for dabbling in the weed game, lawsuits have begun to spring up across the country from acquitted suspects in pot cases demanding that their property be returned to them in the same condition it was confiscated.
But obviously, the cops aren’t mixing nutrient solutions and adhering to a strict lighting schedule in these evidence rooms, so the seized plants start wilting immediately.
A cancer patient in Colorado Springs needed a court order to get the police to give him his pot back after they wrongfully seized 55 of his personal plants. When they gave him back 55 dry, dead stalks, he hit them with a $300,000 lawsuit.
Sam Kamin is a law professor at the University of Denver, and being on the front lines of the grand ganja experiment in Colorado, he warns law enforcement about trying to play by the same old rules. “Law enforcement is going to have to think more carefully about what their procedures are and how those procedures might need to change in light of changes in the law,” Kamin told the Boston Globe, “The same evidence that two or three years ago would have given police probable cause today doesn’t.”
Suing the cops after a raid is nothing new, but as settlements become more and more common, for larger and larger sums of money, cash-strapped state-level police departments are beginning to weigh the risk of raiding a cannabis grow op versus the dwindling rewards of doing so.
Even without successful lawsuits holding ganja-grabbing pigs accountable, these investigations and raids alone can cost well over one million dollars each. Americans for Safe Access estimates that in July of 2013, just four investigations/raids in Washington state cost taxpayers well over $12.3 million.
In light of a growing list of six- and seven-figure lawsuits over aggressive cannabis plant confiscations, law enforcement departments in weed-friendly jurisdictions have taken to pulling samples of the plants for evidentiary purposes. They then rely on photographs to illustrate volume in court, leaving the bulk of the product behind.
Jim Gerhardt is a spokesperson for the Colorado Drug Investigators Association, and the new tactic of leaving evidence behind has him worried. “It would be like arresting a cocaine dealer and taking a minuscule amount of the cocaine as a sample and then leaving it there for them to be used or sold”, he barfed. He just presumes that all cannabis growers are “dealers” as he ignorantly compares a potted plant to a processed drug.
In Oregon, local law enforcement still investigates suspect grow ops. If they determine that a grower is breaking the law by growing too many plants, they now just seize enough plants to bring the grower back into compliance.
Back in Colorado, narcotics detectives are being tasked with determining whether or not responding officers should pursue the seizure of any cannabis plants before a single leaf or stem is snapped.
“Ten years ago, you had that many plants, you just went in there and ripped them all out. Now, you’ve got to ask a few questions,” said Sergeant David Oswalt of the Colorado Springs PD, seemingly pining for the good ol’ days.
Asking a few questions before completely ruining someone’s life over a plant…what a novel concept.