Is this excessive force? This was an 81 year-old’s house and she had one plant.
All that remains of the solitary marijuana plant an 81-year-old grandmother had been growing behind her South Amherst home is a stump and a ragged hole in the ground.
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.
Holcomb said he was at his mother’s home eating a late lunch with his sister when they heard whirring blades and looked up to see a military-style helicopter circling the property, with two men crouching in an open door and holding a device that he suspects was a thermal imager to detect marijuana plants.
Margaret Holcomb was not home at the time.
Within 10 minutes of the helicopter departing, several vehicles arrived at the home, including a pickup truck with a bed filled with marijuana plants seized at other locations, and several State Police troopers, including one who flashed his badge.
“He asked me if I knew there was a marijuana plant growing on the property. I didn’t answer the question. I asked, ‘What are you doing here?’” Holcomb recalled.
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.
“’We just want the illegal contraband,’” Holcomb recalled the officer saying. Margaret Holcomb does not have a medical card authorizing her to grow or possess marijuana.
Margaret Holcomb said she is “not a huge social activist” but she is ready to stand up in this case, in which she feels like her civil rights were violated. If she’s unable to get medical marijuana by other means, she said, she may grow another plant.
“I’m prepared to take actions if I need to,” Margaret Holcomb said. “I don’t picture them out here and putting an 81-year-old woman in jail.”
State police spokesman David Procopio confirmed in an email that State Police and National Guard enforcement occurred in the Amherst and Northampton area Sept. 21. He said the plant at Margaret Holcomb’s home was one of 44 found on various properties outside and in plain view that day.
“At each location where property owners were home, troopers identified themselves and explained the purpose for the visit, why the plants were being grown illegally, and seized the plants,” Procopio said. None of the property owners was charged with a crime.
The seizures included an additional 21 plants in Amherst, with 16 on Montague Road and five on Potwine Lane; two plants on Cross Path Road in Northampton; and 20 in Hadley, with 10 plants on Honey Pot Road, eight on River Road and two on Pine Hill Road.
Such enforcement actions have become commonplace since the 2012 law that made medical marijuana legal in Massachusetts, according to Northampton attorney Michael Cutler.
“The exact same stuff happened last year,” said Cutler, who specializes in helping clients understand the state’s medical marijuana law and recently participated in drafting the language of the Nov. 8 ballot initiative that would legalize the recreational use of marijuana.