Alaska Marijuana News

APD seizes Anchorage pot delivery service's cars, but owner vows to drive on

In the past two months, police have seized two cars from an Anchorage marijuana delivery service. The owners said they've been left in the dark about when -- or even if -- their property will be returned.

Experts say current search and seizure laws allow law enforcement to take and hold the property, though they contend the Alaska Legislature needs to rethink the laws in terms of a ballot initiative that legalized recreational marijuana in Alaska.

Michael Crites, who owns Absolutely Chronic Delivery Company along with his wife, said two Anchorage Police Department stings in recent months resulted in the loss of two cars tied to the business.

About two months ago, Crites was delivering a donation to an apartment building off Brayton Drive in South Anchorage. He said ACDC is only a delivery service and all funds received are "donations."

"When I got to the door, I had an invoice with all the donation information," Crites said. The delivery went off without a hitch, but when Crites tried to drive out of the apartment building's parking lot he was surrounded by police. Six to eight officers drew their weapons, he said.

Crites said his wife and 75-year-old father were in the car.

He said he asked what the swarm of police was about; he was told they didn't have to say. After pressing, an officer allegedly said his vehicle was being seized due to the "marijuana transaction." Officers also took his cellphone, wallet and a large amount of cash, he said.

Crites said he had about a kilo of pot and $9,000 in his car. He'd pick up the product from a supplier who he says donates time and money to ACDC. The marijuana goes to everyday people -- doctors, lawyers, coffee-stand workers, he said -- and patients who can't leave their homes.

Recreational legalization allowed Alaskans to possess and transport up to 1 ounce of marijuana. People are also able to give each other up to 1 ounce of marijuana, or six immature plants.

On Wednesday, police seized another vehicle from a driver working for the company. The bust occurred outside a West Anchorage hotel after the driver finished a delivery. The driver's cellphone was taken too, Crites said.

"All the police have done is show up with automatic weapons and take our vehicles," Crites said. "We're for the people. We're designed for the people. If it ever goes to trial, I'll bring in all of our patients to explain what we do."

As for getting his property back, Crites said the police for the most part have been unresponsive to his requests for information. APD has replied to Crites that the two vehicles are evidence and part of an ongoing investigation.

Police spokesperson Renee Oistad said on Friday that she could not discuss the investigation into ACDC. She said police can seize property with probable cause.

"The vehicle will be returned once the District Attorney deems that it should be returned as the vehicle has been seized as evidence in a pending case," Oistad said.

She added that there is no set time limit for how quickly a search warrant must be obtained.

"The police do apply for the warrant as quickly as reasonably possible," she said. "Most search warrants must be served within ten days of the date of issue but exceptions may be granted by the issuing judge."

Evidence that is seized for use at a trial is held until the case concludes, either through a plea deal or a jury decision. Seized contraband, like illegal drugs, will never be returned.

Ben Adams -- aka Alaska Pot Attorney, a former public defender turned marijuana business lawyer -- said law enforcement seizes property like vehicles through asset forfeiture. Additionally, Alaska law also allows for an investigative seizure in instances where police believe criminal activity has occurred, he said.

What has been reported on ACDC certainly appears to fall within the bounds of the state's search and seizure law, Adams said.

"It's an extremely common problem, especially when it comes to marijuana. It happens all of the time," Adams said. "I think the reason is that the Legislature hasn't necessarily amended the criminal law yet; nor have any of the courts, especially the appeals or supreme courts, made any rulings that interpret the ballot measure in terms of what the police can do."

Adams said he's been telling groups like ACDC that they're running the risk of losing property. Another marijuana delivery business, Discreet Deliveries, has been called illegal by the state. One of its delivery drivers was arrested in a sting in January and is facing criminal charges, while another was busted in June. In that latter bust, the driver's car and cellphone were seized but the driver wasn't arrested, similar to the ACDC busts.

Bruce Schulte, who sits on the state's Marijuana Control Board, said the only laws changed by the passage of the ballot initiative deal with personal cultivation and possession.

"The way I see it, anything commercial, anything involved in the production, sale or distribution of marijuana, really hasn't changed," Schulte said. "The applicable laws are those that were in effect a year ago."

He added he "hates" forfeiture laws and thinks they are abused here and elsewhere.

"It's an intrusion on people's lives and their property rights. With that said, I think law enforcement has legacy laws to fall back on, and until the Legislature takes a look at those, there's a huge risk," Schulte said. "I want all potential businesses to succeed. But I would tell any friend looking to get into the business, and it comes up a lot, don't do anything you wouldn't have done a year ago," when Alaskans legalized recreational pot.

Crites said he considers the car gone for good. He'd like to get it back, but he isn't going to dwell on its seizure. People have already donated new vehicles -- "beaters with heaters," he says -- to the business. He plans to keep delivering marijuana, he said.

"One of the biggest points we want to make: Stopping it is not possible," Crites said. "I'm optimistic about the future. We have people wanting to drive for us on a daily basis despite the police taking our vehicles."

He said if police return "our 'seized' products," the marijuana would be "donated" to cancer patients and other members with illnesses.

Correction: An earlier version of this story misstated Anchorage Police Department protocols on seized property and search warrants due to incorrect information provided by an APD spokesperson.