As originally reported by the Eureka Times-Standard, and reprinted by the Willits News, if a police officer in the field has probable cause to believe that your grow is outside of the law, he may yank the plants out of the ground and destroy them. You cannot later sue the department or the officer for destroying your property, even if you show later that the grow was legal, or if the District Attorney refuses to file criminal charges.
In the case of Littlefield v. County of Humboldt, Roscoe Littlefield was found growing 200 marijuana plants, with a reported canopy of 6,000 square feet. Mr. Littlefield had four medical marijuana recommendations posted on site. He also had a loaded rifle with a 50 round magazine on the property. The police estimated that the grow would yield about 1,500 pounds of pot, which of course is probably an overly-optimistic estimation all too typical with law enforcement “experts”. The officers took a 10 pound sample, and five random sub-samples, and destroyed the rest.
The California Court of Appeal held that an officer should take several factors into consideration when determining if there is probable cause to believe that the marijuana grow is outside of the medical allowance. In Mr. Littlefield’s case, the Court considered the size of the grow compared to the county guidelines, the presence of the rifle, the fact that all recommendations on site were from the same doctor, and for the same ailments, and the large amounts of marijuana prescribed to them. Based on these factors, the Court held that the officers had probable cause to believe that Mr. Littlefield’s marijuana grow was illegal.
The article goes on to quote Dale Gieringer, California director the the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML), who said that he was not surprised by the holding, given the egregiousness of the case. The true impact of this holding will probably not be known until cases involving more modest amounts of marijuana are decided. The fear is that it will embolden officers in the field to destroy citizens’ property without any prior judicial oversight.
It will be as important as ever to closely monitor how the power given by this case is employed by law enforcement in California, particularly in the medical marijuana producing areas of Mendocino and Sonoma Counties.