In one of the dumbest, most wasteful, and least productive marijuana busts on record, Massachusetts State Police officers raided the property of an 81-year-old woman in September, just so they could seize a single illicit cannabis plant.

Margaret Holcomb, who lives in Amherst in Western Massachusetts, said she was growing one marijuana plant in her backyard garden, tucked between raspberry plants. She uses pot, she said, to treat advancing glaucoma, arthritis, and insomnia.

The cost and inconvenience of getting a medical marijuana card were beyond her, Holcomb said, so she grew her plant covertly. But it came as a shock when she realized what authorities had done.

Raided by state police and National Guard

A team of state police officers and members of the Massachusetts National Guard swooped down on her property Sept. 21, bringing a helicopter, several police vehicles, and a number of state troopers to raid her yard. They uprooted the plant and took it away in a pickup truck.

The raid was one of several that day, said State Police spokesman David Procopio. All told, officers collected just 43 plants from multiple properties. The smallest busts netted only one or two plants each, while the largest came away with 20 plants, far from a viable commercial grow.

Marijuana plant seized
Tim Holcomb points at a spot in the ground where his mother Margaret Holcomb’s marijuana plant was seized the other day from her backyard in Amherst.

None of the property owners were charged with a crime, Procopio says, making it unclear why the raid was launched in the first place. The busts, he said, were coordinated by the DEA’s Cannabis Eradication Program, which pays states to uproot as many plants as they can.

Massachusetts received $60,000 from the program in 2016. That was a slight drop from the $75,000 spent in 2015, a year in which state authorities destroyed only about 3,000 plants total. It cost about $24 to seize each plant – a massive waste to taxpayers.

A DEA spokesman insisted that states ultimately decide how to spend the money, not the federal government. But anti-drug efforts involving both state and federal police agencies typically take their lead from the DEA.

The Cannabis Eradication Program aims to “halt the spread of cannabis cultivation in the United States.” The DEA makes no exceptions for medicinal pot, unlike police in places where the drug is legal under state laws. And even there, authorities sometimes bust legitimate patients.

Marijuana plant seized
A stomp of a marijuana plant that was seized the other day from Margaret Holcomb’s backyard in Amherst.

The program is drawing increasing push back from lawmakers who say it’s a waste of money and police resources. But it has never been terribly popular: By the mid-2000s, even the DEA admitted that most of the pot it seized is “ditchweed,” or wild marijuana plants unsuitable for psychoactive use.

The raids have taken place across Massachusetts. On Martha’s Vineyard, state troopers and National Guard troops recently took four plants from another 81-year-old, former cancer patient Paul Jackson.

Though he has no medical marijuana card, Jackson said he didn’t think his small garden would raise any concerns.

“I figured what I was growing was such a small amount, what the hell was the big deal?” he said.

Tell us what you think: Will raids like this continue if Massachusetts voters legalize cannabis Nov. 8? Leave a comment below.

See also: Reform Moves East: Maine, Massachusetts to Vote on Legal Weed


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