Police in Ellsworth, Maine did something very unusual on Monday: they returned stolen marijuana plants.

The plants were allegedly swiped from licensed medical marijuana caregiver Thomas Davis, according to reporter Mario Moretto at Bangor Daily News. Maine resident Aaron Pert, 32, was arrested for the theft last week.

After witnessing a Jeep roll through a stop sign, an officer reportedly claimed to smell marijuana in the vehicle, which was being driven by one of Pert's friends. A search revealed that Pert was carrying a loaded firearm and a small amount of marijuana, allegedly plucked from one of the stolen plants.

He posted bond that Thursday night and was released, but it wasn't long before the law was on Pert's tail yet again. Davis discovered the burglary at his grow house on Friday, October 12, and immediately called police.

It didn't take long to put the two incidents together. Acting on an alleged confession, police said they discovered 17 marijuana plants worth approximately $12,800 hidden in a nearby wooded area.

It is illegal under federal law to distribute marijuana to anyone for any reason, and Ellsworth police were fully aware of that fact, but remained unclear on whether state law would give them leeway to return the stolen property.

It's a touchy subject, too: there was a time when even so much as passing a joint could get a first time offender locked up for dealing drugs, and the potential for exposing state employees to federal prosecution has been a concern for governors in states that have legalized medical marijuana.

Despite the uncertainty between state and federal law, police said Monday that they'd returned the stolen marijuana to Davis, who told Bangor that he'd only be able to salvage about 15 percent of the grow.

Since the government prohibited doctors from recommending marijuana in 1943, just 17 states and Washington D.C. have legalized the drug for medical uses, although an additional seven states are voting on similar laws later this year. Polls show the vast majority of likely voters believe that the government should not prohibit doctors from recommending marijuana to people with certain medical conditions.

While the Obama administration says it does not consider medical marijuana patients to be a high priority for law enforcement officials, critics say the Democratic president has been tougher about medical marijuana crackdowns than any of his predecessors. Whether or not the feds will go after police in Ellsworth remains to be seen, but chances are they've got bigger, wealthier targets in mind.


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