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81 year-old glaucoma patient latest victim of Mass. State Police war on marijuana

We’ve long known that the war on drugs is a major driver of not only mass incarceration but also excessive government surveillance and other Fourth Amendment violations. Here in Massachusetts, the latest example of government overreach in the war on drugs astounds: National Guard and State Police officials raided 81-year old glaucoma patient Margaret Holcomb’s property in order to seize a single marijuana plant growing in her yard.

Her son, Tim Holcomb, was at the house when the raid took place. He told the local newspaper that the officials who conducted the raid coerced him into letting them onto the property without a warrant.

“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,” the paper reported.

Demanding a warrant to enter private property is an escalation? That is a bold thing to say, particularly when it’s coming from armed agents of the state intent on raiding an elderly woman’s garden in search of a contraband herb. Mr. Holcomb had every right to demand officials present a warrant. Unsurprisingly, though, facing the very real threat that his 81 year-old mother could be arrested, Holcomb’s son declined to interfere with the officers.

This case is outrageous, but Ms. Margaret Holcomb was not alone in experiencing the indignity of police and military officials traipsing around her property in search of the evil weed that day in Massachusetts. State police spokesman David Procopio told the Daily Hampshire Gazette her marijuana plant was just “one of 44 found on various properties outside and in plain view that day.”

A local defense attorney said he suspects these raids coincided with end of the year budget reporting requirements for the state police. The fiscal year ends Saturday, the theory goes, so officials figured they might as well get in some extra helicopter flight time—fueled by gasoline paid for with federal funds. As I’ve written here before, the US military spent nearly $3 billion on National Guard anti-drug operations between the years 2004-2015, figures which include funding for marijuana crop eradication efforts.

Raids like these are business as usual for the National Guard and Massachusetts State Police, which routinely conduct aerial surveillance operations together looking for marijuana plants, and then conduct warrantless raids to destroy them. In August, officials raided another 81 year-old who uses marijuana for his medical needs—cancer, in his case—again without a warrant. Local officials including the chief of police and the district attorney claimed no knowledge of the raids in both cases. 

There’s a measure to legalize marijuana on the ballot in Massachusetts this November. Vote yes on Question 4 so we can leave this shameful period of our history behind us. When you hear politicians defend the war on drugs and marijuana prohibition, this is what they’re defending: attacks on the Fourth Amendment, elderly men and women who use the herb to treat their medical conditions, and of course, Black and brown Bay Staters who face arrest at far greater rates than white people, despite similar usage rates.

The war on marijuana is simply unconscionable, and we the voters have a chance to stop it once and for all. Vote yes on 4.

© 2024 ACLU of Massachusetts.