Absolute Asinine Laws

Life in Prison for Hemp

José Peña brought some roadside weeds home from Kansas. Cops decided it was reefer, and a Texas court sentenced him to life in prison – without the evidence. It took a decade for Peña to get back some of the pieces of his life.

By Jordan Smith, Fri., March 16, 2012

Life in Prison for Hemp

José Peña was tired as he drove south toward Houston on the morning of Sept. 27, 1998. Following a quick trip north to Kansas in a rented van – to pick up the brother of a distant cousin’s son – he was on his way home to Houston, where he lived with his wife and four children. It was the kind of favor Peña often did for friends and family, no matter how distant the relation – and the kind of favor that irritated his wife. “I was tired, and I was trying to get home,” the 50-year-old recently recalled. “My wife was mad at me for doing favors for other people” when he could instead be home.

That morning, just before 8am, Peña was cruising south down I-45, a little more than two hours from home. He was driving in the right-hand lane through Leon County when he passed a state trooper sitting in his car on the grass median. He thought nothing of it – just another Texas trooper on a long and nondescript stretch of highway – until he noticed the trooper pull out onto the road and follow him. The officer, Mike Asby, a veteran member of the Texas Department of Public Safety, drove in the left lane until his car was parallel with Peña’s. Peña looked over at Asby. “He pulled up next to me, and I looked at him because I wasn’t not going to make eye contact” with an officer whom Peña thought was definitely checking him out for whatever reason.

Although Peña steadfastly maintains that he wasn’t doing anything wrong or unusual, Asby would later testify that Peña caught his attention because he was driving more slowly than the rest of traffic in a van caked with mud; when the van “weaved across the center stripe and also across the solid yellow line on the shoulder,” Asby testified in January 2003, he had to take action. “You’re required to stay in a single lane of traffic,” he said. He activated his lights and pulled Peña over.

Within the hour, Peña would be in handcuffs in the back of the trooper’s car, headed to the county jail in Centerville on a charge of marijuana possession. Nearly five years later, Peña would be convicted and sentenced to life in prison for possession of what the state said turned out to be 23.46 pounds of freshly cut marijuana that Peña was transporting in the back of the muddy blue van. Although Asby testified that this was not a normal highway drug bust – “normally,” he testified, marijuana moves north from Houston, already “dried out, cured, and ready to be sold” – he was certain that what he found casually laid out in the back of the van was pot because it smelled like pot – and he knows pot when he smells it. “It’s something that you learned in [28] years of experience being on the road?” prosecutor Whitney Smith (now Leon Coun­ty’s elected D.A.) asked Asby.

“Yes, sir,” Asby replied.

Just Trust Us

There are at least two problems with the official story of Peña’s arrest and prosecution. First, Peña is adamant – and has been since 1998 – that what he was transporting was not marijuana, but actually hemp, pot’s non-narcotic cousin. Peña says he found the plants growing wild in Kansas and cut them down, thinking that he could use the stems and leaves in the various craft projects he made with leather and wood in his garage workshop; there was no doubt in Peña’s mind that what he was transporting was not marijuana. The second, and eventually more decisive problem with the official story of the Peña bust, is that prior to his trial, officials with the Department of Public Safety lab in Waco, where the plants were taken for testing, completely destroyed all of the case evidence – all 23.46 pounds of plant material – and then also lost the case file with all of the original documentation of the lab’s work on the case. By the time Peña was finally tried – more than four years later – there was absolutely no evidence to show the jury; instead, the state relied completely on the “experience” of Asby and of Waco lab supervisor Charles Mott (now retired) to persuade jurors that what they say they saw and tested was actually marijuana.

It worked.

That is, it worked until late last year, when Peña’s conviction was finally overturned by the Court of Criminal Appeals, the state’s highest criminal court, and Leon County subsequently dismissed the charges for good. In the intervening decade, however, Peña’s case became a political hot potato, catching the attention of judges and lawyers across the state who watched as the 10th Court of Appeals, based in Waco, played tug-of-war with the Austin-based CCA over the power of the Texas Constitution, and whether it affords citizens greater rights and protection against state power than does the U.S. Constitution.

It’s a conflict that has left the state of Texas divided and may mean – at least for the time being – that persons tried for crimes in one part of the state will be afforded greater protection from prosecutorial errors or malfeasance than are others. Frankly, says Keith Hampton, an Austin defense attorney who represented Peña just before his case was dismissed, you just “don’t see this happen very often.” Ulti­mate­ly, whether the protections gleaned from the Texas Constitution by the 10th Court will remain in force and be applied to all Texans is still to be determined.

Weeds, Not Weed

Peña had a knack for creating handcrafted leather and wood items that sold like hotcakes, he says, at flea markets in and around Houston. He made personalized shellacked plaques and leather key chains with popular first names spelled out in tiny beads, and at a dollar a key chain, they sold well. So when he first saw the hemp plants growing on the roadside near Manhattan, Kan., they gave him an idea. He would take the plants – which, to an untrained eye, look exactly like marijuana plants – press the leaves, and then use them on plaques or affixed to the small leather wallets that he also had become expert at making. He recognized these as “volunteer” hemp plants – they grow wild across the country, reminders of the days when hemp farming was commonplace and even, during World War II, encouraged by the feds as supporting the war effort. By the Kansas roadside, they were scraggly and abundant. When he pulled into the Tuttle Creek State Park outside Manhattan, and saw the plants growing everywhere, he “loaded … up.”

Indeed, Peña thought nothing of the fresh-cut plants that he’d laid out in the back of the blue van he was driving. He knew – partly from experience of having smoked pot when he was younger, and partly because he knew that hemp was once a major agricultural commodity – that the plants were nothing more than weeds that looked like weed.

However, that’s not how Asby saw it. To him, it was clear that one thing, and only one thing, was taking place. Peña was moving a large amount of marijuana to Houston – as unusual as that might be, Asby acknowledged.

Peña repeatedly told Asby that the plants were hemp, and his insistence clearly gave some pause to Asby and the two backup officers who soon joined him. The three men stood next to the van pondering the notion that a plant could look like, but not actually be, marijuana. “I … questioned them, I said, ‘Well, he says it’s not marijuana,'” Asby recalled in court. “I knew that there was a substance called hemp and I was asking them. … And I asked them, ‘You ever heard of something like marijuana, just hemp, that is legal to have?'” he continued. “I don’t know that there is a legal kind. That was the question I was asking the officers: ‘Have you ever heard of this … where marijuana was cut and it turns out to be legal?'”

In the end, Asby was unpersuaded. “I just know marijuana smells like marijuana,” he testified in 2003. “And I have never found anything that I thought was marijuana that wasn’t.” He cuffed Peña and hauled him off to jail.

Page:   1   |   2   |   3   |   All

Federal marijuana trial adjourned again

DETROIT —

A federal court trial date for three men charged in a Lenawee County marijuana growing operation has once again been adjourned.

No new date has been scheduled for a trial that was to begin March 27 for Barry Lee Fisher of Onsted, Todd Bacon of Kalamazoo and Lloyd Richard Smoke of Clayton.

A federal district court notice stated a March 19 plea deadline and the trial date were adjourned by agreement of all parties in the case. Hearing and trial dates have been adjourned several times, reportedly to allow plea negotiations to continue.

The three men were transferred from Lenawee County District Court to federal district court in Detroit a year ago. Fisher and Bacon were arrested after a Feb. 17, 2011, bust of a marijuana growing operation at the Oak City Antiques store in Clinton Township and a rented house in Tipton. The OMNI Team 3 drug enforcement unit reported seizing 345 marijuana plants. Fisher and Bacon face marijuana manufacturing and conspiracy charges. Smoke, the owner of the antique store, was charged with maintaining drug-involved premises.

CONTINUE READING…

Phototron Announces Personal Indoor Marijuana Growing for Medical Use Not the Target of Feds

US Attorney for the Eastern District of California Benjamin Wagner Speaks in Sacramento and Says He’s Not Going after Medical Marijuana Patients and Caregivers

GARDENA, Calif., Mar 16, 2012 (BUSINESS WIRE) — Phototron Holdings, Inc. PHOT -16.67% (otcqb:PHOT), the hydroponic growing systems company behind the “grow your own” revolution, believes the continued crackdown, resulting in the closure of hundreds of dispensaries and seizures of large-scale cannabis grow operations, is making personal indoor growing systems more attractive to medical marijuana patients.

Speaking at a recent press luncheon in Sacramento, United States Attorney for the Eastern District of California Benjamin Wagner said he’s not going after medical marijuana patients and caregivers, but he is cracking down on interstate transporters, huge pot farmers and illicit dispensaries grossing tens of thousands of dollars per day. He also issues a warning to large-scale pot farmers that a season of raids in the Central Valley is coming in 2012.

“Medical marijuana patients have fewer options for obtaining their medication safely, and in many places are faced with having to travel long distances or get untested medication off the street,” said Craig Ellins, Phototron’s CEO. “So patients are increasingly growing their own medication and Phototron’s systems are perfect for personal use.”

About Phototron Holdings, Inc. Phototron Holdings, Inc. PHOT -16.67% (otcqb:PHOT) designs and manufactures cutting-edge indoor mini-greenhouses capable of year-round growth of herbs, vegetables, flowers, fruits and medicines, better, stronger and faster than traditional farming methods. The Phototron Hydroponic Indoor Grow System, commonly called grow boxes, is built upon decades of research on the optimal temperature, light, water and nutrient needs of plants. The Phototron System uses proprietary lighting that mimics the sun’s rays to grow nutrient-rich, pesticide-free, eco-friendly crops faster and in more bountiful quantities than those of traditional gardening methods, resulting in fruits and vegetables of superior taste and quality.

Phototron systems and accessories are available for purchase from the company’s website at: www.phototron.com

For comprehensive investor relations material, including fact sheets, presentations conference calls and video, please follow the appropriate link: Investor Presentation, Investor Portal and Investor Fact Sheet.

Forward-Looking Statements This release contains “forward-looking statements” for purposes of the Securities and Exchange Commission’s “safe harbor” provisions under the Private Securities Litigation Reform Act of 1995 and Rule 3b-6 under the Securities Exchange Act of 1934. These forward-looking statements are subject to various risks and uncertainties that could cause Phototron’s actual results to differ materially from those currently anticipated, including the risk factors identified in Phototron’s filings with the SEC.

SOURCE: Phototron Holdings, Inc.

        
        Phototron Contact: 
        Phototron Holdings, Inc. 
        Todd Denkin 
        Toll-free: 800-651-2837 
        sales@phototron.com 
        or 
        Financial Communications: 
        Trilogy Capital Partners, Inc. 
        Darren Minton, President 
        Toll-free: 800-592-6067 
        info@trilogy-capital.com
        

CONTINUE READING…