A medical marijuana patient is trying to retrieve his property, after police seized it during a raid of his home.
A jury acquitted 65-year-old Stephen Ficano of two felony drug charges in May, but police are still holding onto the items they took at the time of his arrest for possession of medical marijuana in excess of the legal allowable amount.
Attorney Dustin Marcello represents Ficano. Two months later, police still have Ficano's guns.
“I don't think people have any clue how civil forfeiture works until they're involved in it, and then they can't believe it works this way,” Marcello said.
“I want to go on with my life,” Ficano said.
In October 2012, police showed up at Ficano's home after watching him openly grow marijuana in his backyard. He invited police into his home.
“I have nothing to hide,” he said.
That's a decision he regrets. Police say they found 67 plants, 24 pounds of finished marijuana, 26 guns and nearly $52,000 in cash. They took all of it.
“It was just crazy,” he said.
Ficano says he makes edibles which require large quantities of marijuana. He had a doctor's note stating he needed more than the legal amount, but the Clark County District Attorney says that's not an absolute defense.
Ficano says the guns are mostly collectibles from his father. He withdrew the money from the bank when the economy tanked.
“It is my belief that he was charged solely to try to forfeit his money and his property,” Marcello said.
In a statement to 8 News NOW, District Attorney Steve Wolfson says his office offered Ficano a plea bargain:
“Mr. Ficano was treated like any other defendant with regard to offers of settlement. There were offers made early on in the case and throughout its progression. In fact, Mr. Ficano was offered a plea bargain which would have provided an excellent opportunity for his case to receive diversionary treatment and would have allowed for the dismissal of the criminal case.
At the same time, the offer was contingent upon him agreeing to forfeit the money and weapons seized pursuant to lawful seizure. Mr. Ficano chose to repeatedly reject these offers of settlement. That is his choice to do.
Once the jury returned their verdict of not guilty, the District Attorney’s office immediately contacted counsel for the defendant and quickly entered into a stipulation which allowed for the return of all property.
It is my understanding that Metro (Police) has its own policies with regard to the release of firearms and the decision to release Mr. Ficano’s weapons lies with Metro.”
“Any resolution would have involved him forfeiting at least half of his property,” Marcello said. “He said, ‘I don't think I did anything wrong. I'm not forfeiting my property.’”
8 News NOW contacted Metro Police to find out more about seized property. A spokesman says, in 2013, the department took in more than $2.2 million. In 2014, the department collected more than $1.8 million. According to state law, the Clark County School District gets 70 percent of the money. Metro keeps 30 percent.
“This is a source of revenue for police departments nationwide,” Marcello said.
After the verdict, Ficano received his money back, but not his firearms.
“I'm very concerned about the condition of them,” he said.
Ficano may not get his guns back. A Metro Police spokesman points to a federal law that states a person who is an unlawful user or is addicted to a controlled substance is prohibited from owning firearms. Since medical marijuana is not recognized federally, Ficano could fit into this category.
For now, the Metro Police Department is still processing the guns.
“All I want is my property back. That's all I want,” Ficano said.
If Metro does not give Ficano his guns back because of that federal law, a spokesman for the department says he may be able to transfer ownership of the guns to someone else like a family member or friend who does not use drugs.
Getting property back after police have taken it can be a lengthy and complicated process even if a defendant is never convicted.
It becomes more complex when medical marijuana is involved.
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