COLORADO SPRINGS, Co. - A major ruling today from the Colorado Supreme Court on Monday allows law enforcement agencies to withhold seized marijuana, even if the owner of the pot is found not guilty of the charges that lead to the seizure.
The court's decision reverses several lower court decisions in the case brought by Colorado Springs resident Robert Crouse, a longtime advocate of medical marijuana.
Crouse was arrested in 2011 for possessing and distributing marijuana.
His controversial prosecution became a very public legal battle and prompted numerous protests outside the El Paso County courthouse against District Attorney Dan May.
Crouse was later found not guilty and sued the City of Colorado Springs after his 55 plants and nearly 3 kilograms of pot seized by police died in the department's possession.
After two lower courts sided with Crouse, the case moved to the Colorado Supreme Court, where the justices disagreed.
By a narrow 4-3 margin, the court ruled in favor of the City, saying "The supreme court finds that compliance with section 14(2)(e) requires law enforcement officers to distribute marijuana in violation of the Controlled Substances Act."
In other words, the court felt the federal Controlled Substances Act would be violated by law enforcement agencies following the state's constitutional amendment to return the seized pot.
"I think it's a good ruling. it's a common sense ruling," said Pueblo County Sheriff Kirk Taylor after reading the opinion from the court.
In 2016, Pueblo County deputies investigated 127 marijuana grows, requiring a massive amount of storage space to keep all the seized plants and product.
Taylor says the new ruling is a victory for law enforcement, as it relieves his office from caring for the marijuana while in his custody.
"We know that we're not liable for this marijuana, should we seize it and the individual becomes found innocent or not guilty," he said.
Taylor is happy the court has cleared up the state versus federal conflict once and for all, but it leaves an uncertain and troubling future for patients like Crouse, knowing that even if they are wrongfully arrested and found not guilty, their marijuana may still be lost forever, with no way to recover the value.
Crouse's attorney did not respond to calls for comment Monday.
Taylor says in light of this opinion from the state supreme court, he plans to meet with his district attorney and discuss what to do with all the pot his office has seized.
He would prefer to gather it, weigh it, photograph it, and document all the details for evedenciary purposes, then dispose of it as the DEA does, but it's still unclear if this ruling will allow him to do that.