Medical Marijuana Is Under Attack in Arizona Again -- But This Time, Voters and Patients Hold the High Ground

One of the defining moments of the latest war on medical marijuana in Arizona came last month when Gilbert SWAT officers raided the home of a patient suspected of having a single ounce of weed.

Ross Taylor's not only a bona fide, card-holding patient under the law, he also is the owner of the Cannabis Screening Centers, a business that hooks up people with doctors willing to recommend the use of marijuana.

He's a marijuana advocate, and he's a professional in what, since November, has been a legal industry. In April, he spoke about his business before the Gilbert Planning and Zoning Department. On June 9, he was in the process of moving into his new home in south Gilbert, near Higley and Riggs roads. He'd taken title to the home a day earlier; online records show that it was sold on June 8 for $262,200.

Before his movers came, a DIRECTV installer had been setting up a satellite connection in an upstairs bedroom. While doing his work in the room's closet, the installer happened to see baggies of pot in two jars. After he finished the job, the installer called Gilbert police.

About 6:30 p.m., 11 police officers in masks and riot gear gathered outside the home.

This well-armed team of anti-dope crusaders carried a warrant signed by Highland Justice of the Peace Dan Dodge. The warrant shows police were investigating nothing more serious than a possession case, and the suspected amount of marijuana held by Taylor isn't specified. Police later said they were concerned that Taylor had an ounce of marijuana in his home. JP Dodge was never told that Taylor was legally allowed to possess up to 2.5 ounces of marijuana under the voter-approved Arizona Medical Marijuana Act.

Despite the new law, Arizona still is one of the few states in which possession of any amount of marijuana (unless you have a patient-registration card handy) is considered a felony. By all appearances, this was a major felony bust.

The cops cut the power and water, presumably to prevent any contraband from going down the toilet or garbage disposal, then pounded on the door and yelled for someone to open up. Taylor did so, and nine of the officers stormed into his new home. Two others waited outside, watching the front and back yards.

Some of the members of Gilbert's Special Investigations unit and SWAT-trained Criminal Apprehension Team were wearing masks and carrying shields. They displayed handguns, rifles, and shotguns in the "ready" position as they entered, according to a police report.

"They started screaming, 'Search warrant!'" Taylor tells New Times. "They said to turn around and walk toward the door.

"Luckily," he adds, "my son, who's 2 1/2, wasn't there."

The police report states that four men and a woman were taken out of the house. Another "disabled" woman on the second floor would have been a problem to remove from the home, so she was allowed to stay inside.

The report doesn't mention, however, that three of the men extracted from the home were from the All My Sons moving company.

Kevin Anderson, the company's local branch manager, confirms that the officers put the movers in handcuffs along with Taylor and his wife and detained them all for about an hour while a search of the home was conducted.

The police report, authored by Gilbert Detective Craig Avery, states that the bust was in "reference [to] an ongoing narcotics investigation" and that Avery was told by Sergeant Benny Fisher about Taylor's "making comments about selling marijuana."

As New Times reported in a June 16 Valley Fever blog post before the July 1 release of the police report, Sergeant Bill Balafas, the police department's spokesman, said the reason for the raid was that the Gilbert PD had received a tip that the homeowner was in possession of about an ounce of marijuana.

Balafas told the East Valley Tribune for a June 17 article that "the satellite worker who reported the possession told investigators that Taylor said he was selling the marijuana."

Taylor says an officer asked him whether he was dealing weed, and he denied it, though that exchange isn't mentioned in the report. Nothing else in the report supports the accusation, and police didn't state a word about it in the search warrant they requested from JP Dodge.

A spokesman at DIRECTV's headquarters assured New Times that he would check on the story of the snitching satellite installer and call back, but he never did.

Taylor recalls how the installer mentioned the marijuana he'd spotted in the closet.

"It's okay," Taylor says he told the man. "I'm a medical-marijuana patient, and I've got a card."

Naturally, Taylor says, he produced his card — which contains his photograph. He says one of the raiding officers, a guy in a ski mask, told him, "I don't know even know if you're supposed to have this card."

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Ray Stern has worked as a newspaper reporter in Arizona for more than two decades. He's won numerous awards for his reporting, including the Arizona Press Club's Don Bolles Award for Investigative Journalism.