County settles lawsuit over confiscated pot plants

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The county settled a lawsuit with a Puna man who claims police illegally confiscated the medical marijuana growing on his Fern Acres property almost four years ago.

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The county settled a lawsuit with a Puna man who claims police illegally confiscated the medical marijuana growing on his Fern Acres property almost four years ago.

The settlement with Brad Snow and three others was for a total of $4,800. Snow filed suit in May 2014, claiming his property was improperly raided during a marijuana eradication sweep June 14, 2012, even though the plaintiffs had medical marijuana cards and were in compliance with the law.

“The value of six months of marijuana growing in your backyard; they take it, and they don’t give you anything for it,” Snow said Tuesday. “They don’t arrest you. They don’t charge you. They just come and take your stuff. I did not have too many plants. I did not have too much marijuana.”

The civil suit requested the return of 28 confiscated plants or compensation of $5,000 per plant, for a total of $120,000. Snow said Tuesday he accepted the settlement because he was feeling “outgunned, out-financed and outmanned” by the county’s resources.

“I feel that if I had continued the case, I would’ve ended in appeals court at great expense that my other plaintiffs didn’t need to experience,” he said. “And we could’ve been liable for legal fees if we’d been dismissed in appeals court, and we could have been liable for court costs.”

Snow said law enforcement still buzzes his property with low-flying helicopters even though he continues to be in compliance with the medical marijuana law.

“On March 15, they came in and swooped down on my property, at low level, and harassed me again,” he said. “They’re supposed to contact the (medical marijuana) database beforehand, but they don’t do that. They come with a SWAT team and helicopters and they’re wearing body armor. Are they getting shot out there? I know why they’re wearing body armor. Because the guy in the helicopter has an automatic weapon, and they don’t want to get hit with friendly fire.”

Snow, who has a caregiver permit to grow for another individual in addition to himself, said changes to the state’s medical marijuana laws to open marijuana dispensaries will take away his ability to be a caregiver in 2018. He called it “a step backward” in medical marijuana policy.

“In 2018, I will not be able to care-give for even one person,” he said. “Why is it, all of a sudden, after all these years of medical marijuana in Hawaii, they suddenly pop out of the woodwork and come up with all these new rules and regs, when they didn’t even follow the last ones? What they’re doing is making more rules and regulations to make it more difficult for patients to have safe access to medical marijuana. They’re denying the intent of the law. Not only that, they are making it difficult to keep up with all this paperwork. And it’s giving them a reason to violate your Fourth Amendment rights (constitutional protection against illegal search and seizure). You do not have a right to come to my house as a police officer without a (search) warrant signed by a judge. Period.”

Laureen Martin, the litigation chief in the county’s Office of Corporation Counsel, confirmed the settlement amount and said, “It’s a relatively small amount, given the cost to litigate (the case).”

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“They all had medical marijuana cards, so I believe the (settlement) was calculated by the amount of marijuana they are allowed to keep and multiplying that by the value, and anticipating the costs to litigate it, to travel, the depositions, and there would actually have been some witnesses from off-island,” she said.

Email John Burnett at jburnett@hawaiitribune-herald.com.

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