ACLU Sues Sheriff’s Deputies to Uphold New Mexico Marijuana Law

Affiliate: ACLU of New Mexico
January 17, 2008 12:00 am

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CARLSBAD, NM – A paraplegic man is suing Eddy County Sheriff’s deputies for seizing marijuana plants and equipment to grow marijuana, which he uses to control pain resulting from a spinal cord injury. Leonard French received a license to cultivate and use small quantities of marijuana for medicinal purposes from the state of New Mexico under the Lynn and Erin Compassionate Use Act. The American Civil Liberties Union of New Mexico, which represents French, says the deputies’ actions violated not only that law, but also state forfeiture laws and a constitutional prohibition on unreasonable searches and seizures.

“The New Mexico state legislature, in its wisdom, passed the Compassionate Use Act after carefully considering the benefits the drug provides for people who suffer from uncontrollable pain, and weighing those benefits against the way federal law considers cannabis,” said Peter Simonson, ACLU of New Mexico Executive Director. “With their actions against Mr. French, Eddy County officials thwarted that humane, sensible law, probably for no other reason than that they believed federal law empowered them to do so.”

On September 4, 2007, at least four Eddy County deputies, acting as members of the Pecos Valley Drug Task Force, arrived at French’s home in Malaga, New Mexico and announced, “We’re here about the marijuana.” Thinking that the deputies had arrived to check his compliance with the compassionate use law, French presented the deputies with his state license to grow marijuana and showed them his hydroponic equipment, including two small marijuana plants and three dead sprouts. The deputies seized the equipment and plants and later turned them over to the federal Drug Enforcement Administration. French has not been charged with any violations of federal drug laws.

A physician prescribed marijuana for French after other medications lost their effectiveness in controlling pain and severe muscle spasms stemming from a 1987 motorcycle accident.

Simonson said, “With the Compassionate Use Act, New Mexico embarked on an innovative project to help people who suffer from painful conditions like Mr. French’s. The law cannot succeed if the threat of arrest by county and local law enforcement hangs over participants in the program. With this lawsuit, we hope to clear the way for the state to implement a sensible, conservative program to apply a drug that traditionally has been considered illicit for constructive purposes.”

The ACLU’s complaint is available online at:

For more information about the national ACLU Drug Law Reform Project, go to:

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