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Cops Ordered to Return Pot or Face Contempt

With new marijuana laws coming into effect in some states, police officers won't be tasked as often with seizing small amounts of pot from citizens. But in an unusual case making the news this week from Washington state, police are actually being asked -- well, ordered -- to give some back.

A municipal court judge in Tacoma, Wash., has ordered police -- twice -- to return a small amount of marijuana seized during a traffic stop last year, threatening them with a contempt finding if they don't comply. And though the quantity of marijuana at issue is small, the case points to larger issues involving conflicts between state and federal laws regarding the drug.

Joseph L. Robertson had a small amount of marijuana confiscated during a traffic stop in May 2012 and was charged with misdemeanor marijuana possession. The charges were dropped in December, after Washington state voted to legalize small amounts of marijuana. Robertson then asked for his pot back, providing proof of medical authorization. The police refused, and Tacoma Municipal Court Judge Jack Emery issued an order on February 28 compelling them to return the drugs. The police did not comply, and the marijuana remains at the Pierce County Sheriff's Department.

At a hearing last week, Emery threatened the police with a contempt order if they didn't return the marijuana to Robertson within seven days. "Appeal or comply,"the judge told an assistant city attorney, according to the Tacoma News Tribune. "Or next week, show up, and I would advise you to bring counsel." A hearing is set for Thursday.

Emery called the case a "quagmire," due to conflicting state and federal laws regarding marijuana. A spokesman for the Pierce County Sheriff's office told KIRO Radio's Andrew Walsh Show that the office was concerned about violating federal law by returning the drugs to Robertson. "It's not that we don't want to give him back his drugs. We just don't want to be in trouble with the federal government," spokesman Ed Troyer said.

The sheriff's office indicated that it would, however, turn over the pot to the Tacoma city police. “It's Tacoma's case," Troyer said, according to the the News Tribune. "If they want it, they can come and get it." The police can now follow Emery's order and do just that, or appeal to a higher court -- or face a contempt order at this week's hearing.

Posted by Laurel Newby on April 30, 2013 at 04:06 PM | Permalink | Comments (2)

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