Man wants $75K for ruined pot plants

Marijuana cardholder says deputies forced him to destroy them
2013-06-04T00:00:00Z 2013-06-04T08:00:36Z Man wants $75K for ruined pot plantsJoe Ferguson Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
June 04, 2013 12:00 am  • 

A 56-year-old man wants Pima County to give him $75,000 after forcing him to destroy the medical marijuana plants he was growing in his garage last December.

An attorney representing James Merkle has filed a notice of claim with Pima County, asking for damages after Pima County sheriff's deputies forced him to uproot 12 small marijuana plants after responding to a report of a domestic disturbance at the home.

Merkle was issued a medical marijuana card by the state to treat osteoarthritis in his knee.

His attorney, Paul Gattone, said deputies found the plants locked inside the garage while performing a routine search of Merkle's home.

Gattone said the deputies misunderstood the state's guidelines for handling medical marijuana when they forced his client to destroy them.

Under Arizona law, medical marijuana cardholders can grow up to 12 plants indoors so long as they are in an enclosed, locked facility. This is defined as "a closet, room, greenhouse or other enclosed area equipped with locks or other security devices that permit access only by a cardholder."

The only keys to the garage, Gattone said, were in his client's possession.

The deputy, he alleges, cited the laws from growing marijuana outdoors instead of indoors.

"He was greatly mistaken," he said.

Merkle was not arrested nor was he charged with any crime after a search of the home.

A spokesperson for County Attorney Barbara LaWall had no immediate comment.

A letter of claim is a precursor to a formal lawsuit against the county.

In January, the Arizona Court of Appeals ruled a Border Patrol officer improperly seized marijuana last year from a California woman who had a legal prescription for medical marijuana.

The court ruled the woman was entitled to get her marijuana back.

Contact reporter Joe Ferguson at or 573-4346.

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