June 26, 2009 – BOULDER, Colo. – Several cartons and dozens of mason jars filled with high-grade marijuana were turned over by Boulder Police on Thursday to owners of a Picture 76medical marijuana dispensary, returned to those who lost it in a brazen theft just one week ago.

The marijuana, more than 28 different strains of weed, were recovered by police from a quartet of men who allegedly stole it in a mid-afternoon heist — along with surveillance equipment owned by the New Options Wellness Clinic — and were then tracked down and arrested as they tried to flee on U.S. 36.

The four are scheduled for a preliminary hearing in Boulder County Court July 6; in the meantime, the drugs were logged by police as evidence for the prosecution of the theft case, but on Thursday were returned to the clinic, which has remained open since the heist.

“Basically, we consider this a routine return of property to victims of a crime,” said Boulder Police spokeswoman Sarah Huntley. “We are basically returning property to victims. It’s not adversarial in any way at all. We are hoping to prosecute this case successfully and get them the justice they deserve.”

It was seen as anything but routine by representatives of the clinic. There are numerous cases of police returning marijuana to clinics, but in most cases that has occurred when it was the police who seized live plants, were then ordered by courts to return them, and often, have done so with the plants in considerably worse shape than when they’d been taken.

“I am not aware of any being returned in this level of weight as well as, I think it was mentioned, that there’s over 28 strains here, and that’s fabulous,” said Warren Edson, who advises approximately 20 dispensaries in Colorado, and was a co-author of Amendment 20, which gave Colorado legalized medical marijuana in 2000.

“We have a gentleman who runs a business here in Boulder, and pays taxes,” Edson added. “He was unfortunate to be a victim of a crime, and the police department did a great job of getting right on it, apprehending the criminals, getting the evidence back.

“We have a lot of patients in his state who are in desperate need of this medicine, and in particular, some of this medicine is some of the finest organic medicine that you find in the state.”

Representatives of the New Options Wellness Clinic would not estimate by weight how much marijuana was stolen, or how much the police gave back to them today. However, Huntley said the original amount stolen mostly filled two 18-gallon Rubbermaid tubs.

Jeffrey Gard, an attorney for New Options, said a small amount of what was stolen, then recovered, was retained Thursday by police, although he was not clear for what purpose; he said the substance retained by police was hashish.

“There is, as I understand, a very small amount of a powdered substance, which we did keep as evidence,” Huntley said. “The D.A. is reviewing the law, to see whether that falls under the (medical marijuana) guidelines.”

Gard, although he termed the Boulder department’s role in the affair to be one of “reluctant cooperation,” he also said, “They moved very quickly. And actually, as a criminal defense practioner, this is the most rapid I’ve ever seen them return property in any case, that was pending with an investigation.”

Meanwhile, medical marijuana advocates say the number of providers in the Denver metro area has exploded recently; Edson said there are about 35 store-front dispensaries now in and around Denver, whereas this time last year he said, there were no more than eight.

“I think it’s directly attributable to the federal government indicating they were going to leave this up to the states,” Edson said, “and then, a lot of people in this state being able to work properly under the state amendment and provide service for a large number of patients.”

A total of 9,340 people have been approved by the state, based on letters from their doctors, to use medical marijuana since June 2001. One hundred and eighty-two of those people have subsequently died, another 1,444 had their approvals expire, leaving 7,630 Coloradans currently permitted to buy and consume marijuana for medical purposes.

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