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Lawsuit: Washington County sheriff's deputies destroyed licensed hemp plants

Lawsuit: Washington County sheriff's deputies destroyed licensed hemp plants

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Rich Morris

Rich Morris of Toadflax, at work at his nursery. His company has sued Washington County on the grounds that sheriff's deputies ripped up his licensed hemp plants, mistakenly thinking they were illegal marijuana plants.

Washington County sheriff’s deputies ripped up and destroyed an entire field of licensed hemp plants, Toadflax Nursery alleges in a lawsuit filed against the department.

“The plants were completely destroyed and rendered useless,” the lawsuit said. “The plants were clearly labeled with tags indicating ownership.”

The lawsuit was filed Nov. 24 in state Supreme Court in Washington County.

Toadflax sued the Washington County Sheriff's Office.

Toadflax owner Rich Morris did not return a call seeking comment, and Washington County Attorney Roger Wickes said his office has a policy of not commenting on litigation.

The paperwork describes an incident that occurred on Oct. 1, 2019, at a property off Route 43 in Kingsbury.

County sheriff’s deputies were on patrol on Route 43 and saw a group walk out of a field to a car parked on the side of the road at 9 p.m. on Oct. 1. Deputies investigated and saw a pile of hemp plants on the side of the road. Believing the plants to be illegal marijuana plants, they called for more deputies to come to the scene, the lawsuit alleged.

At 10 p.m., the deputies searched the field and ripped up 250 plants. All the plants were double-tagged with their state license number and listed Toadflax Nursery of South Glens Falls as the owner, according to the lawsuit.

Toadflax received a state license to grow hemp on May 24, 2019, and the Sheriff’s Office had been notified, according to the lawsuit. The department also has access to a database that lists licensed hemp growers, and Toadflax is listed on the state Agriculture and Markets website, the lawsuit notes.

The entire incident occurred at night, which could explain why the labels may have been overlooked. The lawsuit said the Sheriff’s Office should have better trained the deputies to be on the lookout for licensed hemp plants, and said deputies did not even ask the workers about the plants. The department also didn’t issue a warrant before removing the plants.

Toadflax filed a notice of claim with the department to cover the value of the lost plants, but the department refused to pay, according to the lawsuit.

The lawsuit called the situation an “unconstitutional unwarranted search” and said Toadflax’s rights to due process were violated as well, because the company was not given a chance to prove that the plants were licensed before they were removed.

The lawsuit also noted that no one was charged with any crime, suggesting the deputies found no evidence of illegal use of the plants.

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You can reach Kathleen Moore at 742-3247 or kmoore@poststar.com. Follow her on Twitter @ByKathleenMoore or at her blog on www.poststar.com.

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