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High crimes 

Grover Beach Police search high and low for stolen medical marijuana plants

Grover Beach resident Joe Cupit is no stranger to the dangers of marijuana use. The diabetic veteran had his first run-in with the law 13 years ago when he was living in Salem, Ore. Local cops raided his crops, and he was convicted of felony cultivation. But with a little help from progressive medical marijuana legislation in the late '90s, Cupit overcame this obstacle.

Three years ago police visited Cupit once again, this time at his home in Cascade Locks, Ore. Presented with documentation of Cupit's medical condition and doctor's recommendation, the police examined his garden and told him that his small crop was perfectly acceptable and within the legal limits.

In February 2004, Cupit relocated from Oregon to Grover Beach, and quickly fell victim the dangerous side effects of cultivating his healing herb. At the peak of growing season, in late August, Grover Beach Police came to Cupit's home and seized his entire crop of five plants. Four of these plants were growing in Cupit's backyard, and one more had been harvested and was hanging inside to dry.

Cupit, who suffers from back and neck injuries as well as arthritis in one arm related to a military injury, had obtained his clones (young plant cuttings) through legal means from an Oakland cannabis club earlier in the spring. By August they were each about 18 inches in height, and Cupit expected to yield between one-half and one once from each plant.

Grover Beach law enforcement, which refuses recognize the legal merit of medical marijuana, was unwilling to accept Cupit's out-of-state doctor's note for his controversial medicine. But with the help of attorney Paul Johnson, Cupit was able to convince a judge of his innocence. Legal proceedings ended on Oct. 27 with the dismissal of all charges.

"[Grover Beach Police], it seems, are invoking a right to be in derogation of state law," Johnson surmised.

California state law requires a note from a doctor to qualify for medical marijuana status, Johnson explained, regardless of where that doctor is licensed.

Cupit's latest wave of problems started about two weeks ago, when he came home on July 12 to discover that this year's crop had been stolen straight out of his vegetable patch. The disgruntled gardener went straight to the police station - just two blocks away - and reported the theft of his medical marijuana.

At this point, Cupit says, officer James Lee told him that the police weren't going to file a report because it wasn't medical marijuana, it was illegal marijuana. From there, Cupit took his grievances to the district attorney's victim services office. The district attorney's office, familiar with Cupit's history as a medical marijuana patient, explained that the police are required to file a criminal report of stolen property.

Cupit's attorney expressed the same idea. "At this point," Johnson said, "this is medicine for him, and not contraband."

Cupit returned after speaking to the district attorney's office, and found the police to be slightly more cooperative. In spite of what he described as an almost heated discussion with Police Chief James Copsey, Cupit was told that they would be filing a report and looking into the matter.

Copsey also told New Times they were taking the case very seriously. "We're definitely treating this as any property theft case and will investigate it as such," the chief said.

After two weeks, however, the district attorney has received no police report related to the incident, and Cupit has begun to doubt the police department's sincerity.

"I thought it was completely 100 percent legal," he said. "I expected a response from them."

Cupit has already replaced the 11 stolen specimens with six new clones from local sources.

Staff Writer Jeff Hornaday aims to serve and protect. Send your grievances to

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