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Friday, January 19, 2007 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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2 activists see drug raids as revenge

Seattle Times staff reporters

When a drug task force raided the homes of Steve Sarich and John Worthington last week, the two men loudly proclaimed it was retaliation for their support of medical marijuana.

It was a "political assassination," said Sarich, who runs an advocacy organization called CannaCare.

Some might say the two men are misplacing blame, especially considering the size of Sarich's marijuana garden, which at one point filled almost a full floor in his Northeast Everett home. But a close look at court documents suggests that, in some ways, their activism did lead law enforcement straight to their doors. According to court documents, a multiagency drug task force found and confiscated more than 1,500 marijuana plants in Sarich's home and a handful in Worthington's. Neither man has been arrested or charged.

Sarich and Worthington came to the attention of the task force last year, when they filed declarations in support of another man facing federal marijuana-distribution charges, according to court documents relating to last week's raids.

The prosecutor on the case asked Bremerton Police Detective Roy Alloway, who serves on the drug task force, who they were. He soon learned that Worthington, of Renton, had a habit of sending e-mails to law-enforcement and government officials complaining about what he saw as the unfair targeting of medical-marijuana patients.

Based on that, Alloway wrote in court papers, "I decided to investigate these individuals."

The detective obtained utility-bill records showing Sarich was using about five times more electricity than the average area resident, court documents state. Also, a marijuana odor could be detected outside his home, according to court documents.

That was enough for a judge to sign a warrant to search Sarich's home. The search-warrant application for Worthington's home, which was made over the telephone rather than on paper, was not immediately available.

Sarich said his marijuana "nursery" is all for CannaCare members, each of whom has a doctor's authorization to use pot for medical reasons. Under Washington's medical-marijuana law, passed by voters in 1998, a patient is permitted to designate a "caregiver" to grow marijuana for him or her. But a patient may not have more than a 60-day supply.

Washington State Patrol Sgt. Carlos Rodriguez, who heads the drug task force, conceded that what makes a 60-day supply is open to interpretation.

"But 1,550 plants — that's ridiculous," he said.

Sarich said the number of plants shouldn't be the focus; many of them were tiny and hadn't produced a usable crop.

Worthington, on the other hand, had six plants. He has his doctor's authorization to use marijuana to ease chronic pain caused by a degenerative bone disease.

Officers on the task force normally target what they call mid- to upper-level drug distributors. Six pot plants usually don't qualify, Rodriguez said.

"It kind of looks like they made a mistake," said Worthington's lawyer, James Lobsenz.

Worthington, who used to belong to CannaCare but said he parted ways with Sarich last spring, has repeatedly complained to a number of officials about the activities of the task force, especially the actions of Alloway.

Sarich said he and Worthington recently delivered to the state Legislature a report summarizing their yearlong investigation into the practices of drug task forces, which they said routinely violate Washington law.

The ACLU of Washington, which is involved in medical-marijuana issues, is concerned because agents also seized medical records of about 200 patients from Sarich's house.

"We're looking into what can be done to protect them," Washington ACLU spokesman Doug Honig said of the patients.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Attorney's Office is deciding whether the cases should be handled by state or federal authorities.

A federal prosecution would mean that neither man could claim he was growing marijuana for medicinal purposes. Federal law does not recognize the medical use of pot. The pair could, however, make that argument in state court.

Maureen O'Hagan: 206-464-2562 or mohagan@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2007 The Seattle Times Company

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