Updated 1:30 pm, Feb. 6
Edgartown police went to a house on 20th Street North on Sunday, January 27, after a mother called to report that her son was breaking into the home of his stepfather. When police arrived to investigate, they found an elaborate marijuana growing operation in one bedroom.
Police will seek charges against Keith E. Bassett for cultivation of marijuana. The crime is punishable by up to two years in jail. Mr. Basset, 43, said he used the small two-bedroom house as an office.
He told police that the marijuana growing operation is legal because he is growing it for relatives who suffer from cancer.
Until the Massachusetts Department of Public Health creates regulations to govern the growing and dispensing of medical marijuana, the new law allows anyone to grow as much as a 60-day supply of marijuana for himself, if he has a doctor’s recomendation for treatment of a serious illness, or as a qualified caregiver for someone else, if they have a written doctor’s recommendation to use it for treatment of a serious illness.
Police said Mr. Basset did not produce any recommendation from a doctor or documentation of any kind and did not tell police that he had any recommendations.
In a phone interview Wednesday, Mr. Bassett said he has a letter from a patient designating him as a caregiver, and that patient has a letter of recommendation from a doctor for medical marijuana.
“I didn’t have the letters on the premises,” Mr. Bassett said. “I was following the law. That’s what I was doing, and that’s what I will continue to do, whether the police like it or not. I’m going to be spearheading the caregiver cooperative out here. I’m not going away. It’s unfortunate that it’s public now, it was supposed to be private between me and my patients.”
Mr. Bassett said he planted the marijuana on January 1, the day the new law took effect.
“It was a prototype medical marijuana garden in Massachusetts, excuse me, medical cannabis. What I was doing was trying to help my family,” Mr. Basset said. “I hardly smoke myself. There was no dried marijuana on the premises.”
In a Letter to the Editor published in today’s issue of The Times, Mr. Bassett’s mother, Linda Bassett-Benoit, owner of the house according to town records, defended her son. She said both she and her oldest son are currently being treated for cancer.
“His actions were purely out of love for his mother and brother, and he has been designated as our caregiver to the state,” Ms. Bassett-Benoit said.
Surprise behind the door
When the first police officers arrived, they saw an open front door with shattered glass inside and outside the house, according to the police report. They quickly suspected that the investigation of a breaking and entering was about to take a new turn.
“As officers entered the small apartment they immediately could smell the odor of fresh marijuana,” Det. Sgt. Chris Dolby wrote in his report. “Officers opened a bedroom door and observed a ‘grow room’ had been set up. The room contained approximately 12 three-foot potted marijuana plants. The room was equipped with lights and other equipment designed to cultivate marijuana.”
Mr. Bassett arrived at his home as officer Stephanie Immelt and Ryan Ruley were investigating. They told Mr. Bassett about the break-in and asked him about the marijuana. He told police it was for medicinal use.
“He continued to explain that he was permitted to do so under the new law that just passed,” Det. Sgt. Dolby wrote. “Bassett explained that his intent was to extract the oil from the plants, which is then used for medicine, for various ailments. It was clear that Bassett was very knowledgeable with respect to marijuana cultivation.”
Police secured the house while they obtained a search warrant. They returned to seize the marijuana plants and growing equipment. They also found four plastic shopping bags containing what they believe is marijuana in Mr. Bassett’s freezer. They also seized packages of marijuana seeds and a digital scale.
Police issued a criminal complaint summonsing for Mr. Basset to appear in Edgartown District Court to answer the charges.
Breaking, entering, and more
In a separate incident, police issued an alert to all Island police departments to locate and stop Jake H. Bilzerian, 20, of West Tisbury, for questioning about the break-in at his stepfather’s house. Dispatchers cautioned police that he might be armed with two black powder hunting rifles missing from the home.
Edgartown police later located Mr. Bilzerian at a Pilgrim Road home, where they arrested him and seized the missing rifles.
According to a police report, Mr. Bilzerian refused to acknowledge that he understood his rights, after Officer Ryan Ruley explained them in a police station interview room. Once Officer Ruley left the room, Mr. Bilzerian attempted to slip his handcuffs from the rear to the front of his body and walk out the door. Officer Ruley restrained Mr. Bilzerian and replaced the handcuffs. Mr. Bilzerian remained agitated, and yelled expletive-laden threats at the two officers, which continued all the way through the booking procedure at the Dukes County Jail, police said.
Mr. Bilzerian was arraigned on January 28 in Edgartown District Court on charges of breaking and entering a building during daytime to commit a felony.