A four-day mini-saga concluded Tuesday afternoon, as the Aspen Police Department handed over a small amount of marijuana to a local homeless state-certified medical marijuana user. They had confiscated the drug from his backpack, which he misplaced over the weekend.
On Saturday, Matthew Franzen, 48, accidentally left a backpack containing his personal effects at the Thrift Shop in Aspen. Workers at the used clothing store found the lost bag and gave it to the police.
Per their policy on lost property, the APD went through the backpack to catalog its contents. In the process, they found a small bag of marijuana. They placed the drugs in their evidence locker, and returned everything else to Franzen on Monday.
“They took away my pot,” Franzen said Monday, sitting outside of the district courtroom at the Pitkin County Courthouse. He had come to the courthouse to speak with members of the district attorney’s office about returning his drugs, but Aspen’s two prosecutors were both in court proceedings from the early morning through the evening.
“That is prescribed medicine for me, and they’re keeping it,” Franzen said. “They’re just harassing me because I’m suing them.”
Franzen stated he believed authorities were holding onto his marijuana because he currently has a civil lawsuit pending against a slew of local law enforcement officials — including the Pitkin County Sheriff’s Office and district attorney’s office — for $150,000 in damages. The suit stems from his arrest and imprisonment on burglary charges in November 2007.
He was jailed for four months before the case against him was dropped.
On Tuesday morning, the APD confirmed that Franzen was a legally registered medical marijuana user. Police Chief Richard Pryor conferred with the district attorney’s office on the Colorado medical marijuana laws before agreeing to give the drugs back to Franzen.
“The police have given it back to him and as far as I know he’s entitled to it,” said Chief Deputy District Attorney Arnold Mordkin.
APD Sgt. Rob Fabrocini handed the marijuana over to Franzen yesterday. He said the department’s officers had previously been unfamiliar with the particulars of state medical marijuana laws.
“We just want to make sure we do everything by the book,” Sgt. Fabrocini said.
Statewide, patients registered with the Department of Health and Environment can legally smoke marijuana, so long as their use does not endanger others and they do not use it in public. They can legally hold up to 2 ounces of a usable form of the drug, and up to six marijuana plants. Doctors cannot legally write prescriptions for marijuana in Colorado, but can recommend it and have patients registered as medicinal users.
The amendment to the state Constitution legalizing medical marijuana was voted in in November 2000. Twelve other states have some form of legal medical marijuana use, but under federal law the drug remains illegal.
Franzen said the local police confiscated marijuana from him once before and returned it to him after they found him on the state’s medical user registry.
“They knew I had a certificate months ago,” a frustrated Franzen said.
Lauren Maytin, an Aspen-based criminal defense attorney who is on the Colorado board of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML), offered to help educate the APD on current medical marijuana law yesterday.
“It’s been on the books for more than eight years,” she said. “We respect the fact that they wanted to check it out, but [Franzen] was without his medicine for some time and that is just wrong.”
NORML is coincidentally holding a fundraiser in Aspen this weekend for their Hunter S. Thompson Scholarship, which pays for an attorney to attend their annual Aspen Legal Seminar in June.
Franzen has been invited as a guest at this weekend’s NORML party, Maytin said.
The APD did not arrest or summons Franzen, who says he uses the drug to treat glaucoma.
“I’m still a little angry,” Franzen said yesterday after getting his medical marijuana back. “But at least I can see again.”