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National Guard Declares Victory Over Grandmother’s Cannabis Plant

October 5, 2016

The Massachusetts National Guard and the Massachusetts State Police teamed up last month to eradicate a pernicious threat to public safety: a single cannabis plant tucked away in an 81-year-old grandmother’s raspberry patch.

“All that remains,” reported the Daily Hampshire Gazette, “is a stump and a ragged hole in the ground.”

Crack work, team. Mission accomplished.

The story, first reported by Gazette writer Scott Merzbach, ran under the headline “Raid! National Guard, State Police descend on 81-year-old’s property to seize single pot plant” — a headline that Vox said “perfectly demonstrated why so many people have turned against keeping marijuana illegal.” Massachusetts is one of five states that will vote on adult-use cannabis legalization next month.

Here’s the rundown from the Gazette:

Margaret Holcomb said she was growing the plant as medicine, a way to ease arthritis and glaucoma and help her sleep at night. Tucked away in a raspberry patch and separated by a fence from any neighbors, the plant was nearly ready for harvest when a military-style helicopter and police descended on Sept. 21.

In a joint raid, the Massachusetts National Guard and State Police entered her yard and cut down the solitary plant in what her son, Tim Holcomb, said was a “pretty shocking” action — one that he argues constitutes unlawful surveillance and illegal search and seizure.

“It’s scary as hell,” said Tim Holcomb.

The raid was part of a broader operation that seized 44 plants from Massachusetts residents. No criminal charges were filed, but it’s not clear any charges would’ve stood up in court, anyway, as the surveillance and seizures appear to have occurred without a warrant. According to the Gazette, “Holcomb said he was told that as long as he did not demand that a warrant be provided to enter the property or otherwise escalate the situation, authorities would file no criminal charges.”

Police confiscated and destroyed the plants, they said, because they were in “plain view” and thus illegal even for registered medical patients. Margaret Holcomb does not have a medical recommendation, reportedly because she’s concerned about obstacles to obtaining a doctor’s authorization.

The raids were planned and executed as top officials, including Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker and Boston Mayor Marty Walsh, railed against Question 4, which would legalize adult cannabis in the state. They’ve repeatedly warned that legal, regulated cannabis is the real threat to public safety—and not, say, overzealous policing.

Holcomb, who lives in Amherst, Mass., told the Gazette she’s “not a huge social activist” but feels her civil rights were violated by the warrantless raid. And if she’s not able to get medical cannabis through other means, she said, she might simply grow another plant.

“I’m prepared to take actions if I need to,” Holcomb said. “I don’t picture them out here and putting an 81-year-old woman in jail.”

Don’t be too sure, Margaret. As the New York Times Editorial Board noted earlier this year, we’ve seen a lot worse.

Ben Adlin's Bio Image
Ben Adlin

Ben Adlin is a Seattle-based writer and editor who specializes in cannabis politics and law. He was a news editor for Leafly from 2015-2019. Follow him on Twitter: @badlin

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