Tucson man suing Pima County for trashing his medical marijuana plants

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Tucson man suing Pima County for trashing his medical marijuana plants

By Maggie Vespa. CREATED Jun 4, 2013

PIMA COUNTY, Ariz. (KGUN9-TV) - It's a Tucson man versus Pima County, over 12 little medical marijuana plants he says he's allowed to have.

The county disagrees.
It's been a hot topic in Arizona these last few months.
Before medical marijuana dispensaries began popping up, many took to legally growing their own meds.
It's a choice has left one Tucson man going toe to toe with the sheriff's department. 
He is a man in pain doing what he can to get through the day.
"When I lay in bed, my knees will throb in pain," said James Merkle.  "You'll actually feel them throbbing."
Merkle suffers from osteoarthritis in both knees.
His chosen method of relief isn't exactly over-the-counter.
It's more like grown-in-the-garage.
"I use it medicinally at night only before I go to bed."
That is, until December, 2012 when Pima County sheriff's deputies responded to Merkle's home for an unrelated matter and found his twelve little seedlings.
"The detective came back in and said, they would let me be in peace but before they left, I had to rip out all of my plants," he said.
Merkle was confused.     
Arizona law states a licensed card carrying grower, like him, can have up to "...twelve marijuana plants... contained in an enclosed, locked facility...".
Merkle is the only one with the key to his garage.
"I told them I was in compliance," he said.
Deputies disagreed.
The sheriff's department wouldn't comment on this case, but the incident report obtained by 9OYS states, since Merkle's garage '...is not part of the house...' , and is partially enclosed by 'a garage door...', it falls outside the guidelines of an 'enclosed locked facility.'
"It was a misinterpretation of the law," argued Paul Gattone, Merkle's attorney.
He is helping him sue the county for $75,000.
"There's a reason why the people of Arizona passed the medical marijuana law, so that people such as my client have the ability to be relieved of pain, to be able to function normally," said Gattone.
In short, it's a heated argument over a newly legal substance, that has both sides pushing to set a precedent.
Gattone says the $75,000 covers the plants Merkle had to throw out, plus extra steps he had to take for pain alleviation.
The Pima County attorney's office declined to comment.