By Carey Wedler
Though Americans are growing increasingly comfortable with the prospect of legal marijuana, the Massachusetts National Guard and the state’s police are proving resistant to change — so much so that last month, they used a military helicopter to raid an elderly woman’s home over a single cannabis plant.
At the end of September, the Daily Hampshire Gazette reported, both entities waged a mission to confiscate weed from Massachusetts residents, sweeping through neighborhoods and snatching up sprouting cannabis plants that were “outside and in plain view” from homeowners’ yards.
Of 44 plants seized in the operation last month, one case, in particular, has incited outrage. On September 21, police cruised through Amherst, Northampton, and other areas of the state to scan yards for plants. In South Amherst, the Gazette reported, the National Guard and state police targeted the home of 81-year-old Margaret Holcomb.
Margaret was growing a single cannabis plant in a raspberry patch so she could use it to treat her arthritis and glaucoma, as well as to fall asleep at night. Though Massachusetts made medical marijuana legal in 2012, only patients with certain approved conditions may hold a license. Glaucoma is one of the approved conditions to qualify for a license, but Margaret does not currently possess one. She has concerns about obtaining cannabis the “legal” way.
As the Gazette noted:
“She worries about the challenges in getting a doctor to sign off on her need, and the costs of obtaining medicine with the only dispensary in Hampshire County provided by New England Treatment Access at 118 Conz St. in Northampton.”
The real offense is arguably not her lack of a license, but rather, the government’s willingness to confiscate what amounts to medicine from a senior citizen — or anyone, for that matter.
Authorities first employed a “military-style” helicopter to initiate their joint raid on Holcomb. She was not home at the time of the raid, but her son, Tim Holcomb, was. The Gazette reported:
“Holcomb said he was at his mother’s home eating a late lunch with his sister when they heard whirring blades and looked up to see a military-style helicopter circling the property, with two men crouching in an open door and holding a device that he suspects was a thermal imager to detect marijuana plants.”
Ten minutes later, he says, a truck filled with confiscated marijuana plants pulled up to Holcomb’s home. Several state troopers approached the property, and one showed his badge.
“He asked me if I knew there was a marijuana plant growing on the property. I didn’t answer the question. I asked, ‘What are you doing here?’”
Tim says he was told the officers were not interested in filing criminal charges, and rather, simply wanted to confiscate the “contraband.” The plants they had been collecting were slated to be destroyed in a controlled incineration.
According to the Gazette, no criminal charges were filed against anyone that day. While this is might be progress — as opposed to arresting users — the officers’ behavior was questionable in other ways.
“Holcomb said he was told that as long as he did not demand that a warrant be provided to enter the property or otherwise escalate the situation, authorities would file no criminal charges,” the Gazette noted. Tim believes their actions constituted an “unlawful surveillance and illegal search and seizure.”
“If the state has a problem with people being discreet, the state has to use due process,” he contended.
He said the whole situation is “scary as hell” and is now working to schedule a community meeting to advocate for legalization. He cited mass incarceration and racial profiling as negative effects of prohibition.
Michael Cutler, a criminal attorney, says operations like the one conducted last month have increased in the state since medical marijuana became legal in the state in 2012.
“We’re seeing the last throes of police hostility to the changing laws,” he said. “They’re taking the position that if it’s in plain view, it’s somehow illegal.” He believes police may be “stretching the definition of ‘plain view’” and questions the use of taxpayer funds for these types of operations.
“Is this the way we want our taxpayer money spent, to hassle an 81-year-old and law-abiding patients?” Cutler asked.
He added it’s likely “authorities are using budgeted funds, prior to the end of the federal fiscal year Saturday, to gas up helicopters and do flyovers.”
Amherst Police Chief Scott Livingstone said he was unaware of the operations, and Mary Carey, a spokeswoman for the Northwestern District Attorney’s office, said the district attorney had no role in the confiscations.
Though Margaret says she is not a “social activist,” she is prepared to stand up to what she evidently feels is an injustice on the part of the government. Her son says she has hired a criminal attorney and intends to grow another plant so she can harvest her medicine for next year.
“Holcomb said she understands the risks of growing another marijuana plant. But at her age and with her medical problems, she says she may just decide to plant the seed,” the Gazette concluded.
As Margaret said:
“I’m prepared to take actions if I need to. I don’t picture them out here and putting an 81-year-old woman in jail.”