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Little help for pot-growing crime victim from Healdsburg

Michael Steffens gets a little nervous these days when he hears car wheels coming up his rural Healdsburg driveway or one of his dogs barking at the window.

A little more than two years ago, the 51-year-old carpenter was the victim of a home-invasion robbery in which he was tied up and beaten by four men who dressed as police officers.

Steffens survived and the men were quickly caught and punished.

But unlike other victims, Steffens said he's been unable to get public assistance for the post-traumatic stress disorder he's developed. And the courts have so far declined to award restitution for the bulk of his losses.

Authorities won't help him, Steffens said, because he was growing doctor-recommended marijuana, in full compliance with local guidelines.

“From the beginning I was denied services that would typically be given to someone whose car was stolen,” said Steffens, a card-carrying medical pot user since 2003. “They just threw their hands in the air.”

Steffens' case comes amid increasing controversy and confusion over marijuana laws.

While state and local governments have approved possession of certain amounts for medicinal purposes, marijuana remains illegal in the eyes of the federal government.

The Drug Enforcement Administration this fall began raiding local pot farms after the U.S. Attorney announced a crackdown on distributors.

At the same time, violence connected to marijuana theft has mounted. At least two Sonoma County homicides in 2011 are believed to be linked to pot.

Whether victims of those crimes will receive all of the public services offered to other crime victims remains an open question. And whether they can get reimbursed for stolen marijuana is unclear.

Christine Cook, a spokeswoman for Sonoma County District Attorney Jill Ravitch, said there's no blanket policy disqualifying victims who were growing marijuana in compliance with local guidelines.

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