Nov 19, 2012 11:17 PM by Andy Koen

Storing seized marijuana costs police and taxpayers

COLORADO SPRINGS - The Colorado Springs Police Department has shelled out $94,310.50 in unanticipated expenses overt the past 8 years just to house marijuana and marijuana plants seized in drug raids.

Much of the money has been directed at improving officer safety as it relates to the increased risk of toxic mold created by storing the plants. Department spokeswoman Barbara Miller confirms that CSPD employees who were exposed to marijuana for prolonged periods reported suffering headaches, breathing problems and rashes.

CSPD emails obtained by News 5 show in 2004 the city spent $30,825 to clean up mold in the evidence room and another $43,000 in 2006 to install extra shelves in the drug vault.

Since March, the department has spent an additional $20,485.50 on increased storage, ventillation and mold testing. City work orders from March 26 - May 31 indicate $8,421.62 was spent to improve exhaust and ventilation in the drug vault directly.

Another $6,696.38 was spent in June to purchase a 40 foot storage container, and $4,710.50 was spent customizing the Mobile Mini container with electricty and an exhaust fan.

The mold testing in March cost $657.

Mike Singels, a 20 year veteran of the force and a board member of the Colorado Springs Police Protective Association, says the mold is serious business.

"The mold is called Aspergillus and that mold, it can have very, very serious side effects," he said.

Singels believes the department is doing its best to protect the officers health. However, he says those officers who take part in drug raids expose themselves to even high concentrations of mold.

"When you execute a warrant going into somebody's home and now you're in their environment which they're taking no precautions to filter the dangerous molds and spores and bacteria."

To lower the health risk in the evidence room, CSPD policy requires all seized marijuana plants be clipped at stem, dried and stored in plastic bags. The most recent testing conducted in March suggests the practice has effectively lowered the mold risk.

The laboratory count of Aspergillus/Penicillium-like spores detected inside the evidence room were equal to or lower than those taken from air samples taken outside of the vault.

However, the process also damages the plants which creates a potential financial liability.

When officers arrested medical marijuana patient Bob Crouse in 2011, they seized 55 plants and 6 pounds of marijuana from his home. Crouse was acquitted in late June and successfully forced the city to return his seized plants last Friday after a lengthy court battle.

While Crouse says he's not planning to sue to city, he certainly thinks he should be compensated for his damaged plants.

"Heaven's sakes, you know let's just do the right thing," he said. "If it's been damaged, and the city attorney and the district attorney have said that they're liable, then let's sit down and not spend any more taxpayer money."

Those in the marijuana industry say the best way to save money and keep officers safe is simply to *not* confiscate marijuana.

"When you're looking at a plant, if it's already in a flowering state, there's no way you can keep it in that state for two years, it's just not possible," explains Tanya Garduno of the Colorado Springs

Medical Cannabis Council, an advocacy group for medical marijuana patients.  What's more, she feels that if the police take marijuana plants they should then care for them.

"If they want to continue to target this type of offense, they definitely need to take that into consideration," she said.

Crouse's attorney Clifton Black even suggested the city consider buying greenhouses and refrigerated trucks. Singels, the CSPPA board member, calls the idea "ludicrous."

Black also recommended the CSPD consider changing evidence collection procedures for marijuana to limit the mold and storage problems.

"Other jurisdictions in Colorado do not seize the property," he explained. "They take pictures of it, they document it, they take clippings off the plants so they can test it."

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