Legally Weird - The FindLaw Legal Curiosities Blog

Pennsylvania Police Mistake Hibiscus for Marijuana, Get Sued

You would think that, after decades of classification as an illegal Schedule I narcotic, marijuana plants would be pretty easily identifiable to law enforcement personnel. But it took three assault rifle-toting Buffalo Township police officers four hours to distinguish between some Cannabaceae, the cultivation of which is a felony under Pennsylvania state pot laws, and Malvaceae, the cultivation of which will result in some nice, trumpet-shaped flowers with five or more petals ranging from white, pink, and yellow to red, orange, peach, or even purple.

Yes, Buffalo Township cops mistook a couple's hibiscus plants for marijuana, leading to them being handcuffed in the back of a patrol car for hours while officers ransacked their house and backyard. Now the couple is suing the township (and the alleged tipster), claiming wrongful arrest.

Marijuana Mis-ID

"They actually ignored me," 69-year-old Edward Cramer said following the incident. "They wouldn't even listen. I said, 'I can show you pictures on the internet.'" The cops were supposedly tipped off by a Nationwide Insurance Company employee who was at the Cramers' home to investigate damage from a fallen tree. The agent sent photos of their flowering plant to police, who responded with a warrant-backed drug raid.

Audrey Cramer, 66, claims she was clad only in her underwear when the cops came calling. "I was not treated as though I was a human being," Cramer told WPXI. "I was just something they were going to push aside. I asked them again if I could put pants on and he told me no and I had to stand out on the porch."

Flower Power

The Cramers have filed lawsuits against both the township and the insurance company seeking monetary and compensatory damages for unlawful detention and infliction of emotional distress. "I don't sleep at night," Audrey said. The, referring to Edward, "And you don't leave me at the house by myself."

"Sometimes I think they look for a crime where it doesn't exist in order to justify their existence," Edward added. Even though the photos were provided by a tipster, you would hope that well-trained law enforcement officers would be able to distinguish between illegal substances and brightly-flowering shrubs. And their failure to do so in this case has gotten them in some legal hot water.

Related Resources: