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Wyoming Cops Accuse Hemp Advocates Of Illegally Growing Marijuana

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A lawyer “argues there is a pile of evidence that the farmers intended to grow hemp, beginning with the fact that they testified in front of legislative committees in favor of legalizing this agricultural practice in Wyoming.”

By Andrew Graham, WyoFile.com

UPDATE: Laramie County prosecutor David Singleton and attorneys for the defendants questioned Wyoming Division of Criminal Investigations Special Agent John Briggs on Thursday during the start of the preliminary hearing. Laramie County Circuit Court Judge Antoinette Williams is presiding over the hearing, which was extended to an as-yet-unannounced date. — Ed.

Wyoming Division of Criminal Investigation agents in November raided an Albin hemp farm, operated by two people instrumental in legalizing the crop in Wyoming, court filings show.

DCI and Laramie County prosecutors are accusing the mother-and-son farmers of growing marijuana with the intent to distribute because the 700-plus pounds of dried plant material law enforcement seized tested slightly above the legal THC-concentration limit of 0.3%, according to a DCI affidavit. Marijuana and hemp are derived from the same plant. Tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, is the chemical in marijuana that gets users high. Its low presence in hemp keeps the crop from being categorized a drug.

The farmers, Deb Palm-Egle and her son, Josh Egle, could face years, even decades, in prison if convicted.

The Egles intended to grow hemp, and their crop tested below the legal limit before the raid, according to documents filed by their attorney, trial lawyer Tom Jubin of Cheyenne.

In the July 6 court filing, Jubin argues there is a pile of evidence that the farmers intended to grow hemp, beginning with the fact that they testified in front of legislative committees in favor of legalizing this agricultural practice in Wyoming.

The case comes up for a preliminary hearing tomorrow in Laramie County Circuit Court. Jubin declined to comment, but his filing indicates he will ask the judge to dismiss the case because his clients did not intend to grow marijuana, which he argues should invalidate all the charges.

The Legislature legalized industrial hemp farming in 2017, though it became law without then-governor Matt Mead’s signature — a sign of his disapproval.

Jubin’s list of expected witnesses includes high-ranking politicians. Wyoming State Treasurer Curt Meier, a former state senator, along with House Majority Floor Leader Eric Barlow and House Judiciary Committee Chairman Dan Kirkbride — all proponents of hemp farming who interacted with the charged farmers during legislative hearings on the statutes — are listed as potential witnesses. All three submitted testimony that they believe the Egles intended to grow hemp, not marijuana.

Political proponents of hemp have touted it as a way to diversify Wyoming’s fossil-fuel dependent economy and provide a new crop for the state’s agriculturists.

A photograph of the Egles standing next to Gov. Mark Gordon at the March 6, 2019 signing of a follow-up bill legalizing hemp production and processing is also included in the filing.

Jubin is also arguing that while DCI’s tests found the plants contained above the legal limit for THC, their concentration of the psychoactive ingredient was far too low to be effective as an illegal intoxicant.

DCI agents put the plants through a series of 10 tests, according to the charging documents. In nine of those, the concentration tested higher than 0.3%, according to the charging documents. The highest test level came back at 0.6% THC.

But for someone looking to get high, smoking these plants would be a disappointment. A review of recreational marijuana dispensary websites in Fort Collins, Colorado shows most “flowers,” the smokable buds of the plants, contain 15% THC or more.

“A crop of hemp containing in the neighborhood of .3 percent — or even over one percent, would be entirely unmarketable as marijuana,” Jubin argued in his July 6th filing. Selling such a product “on the illegal black market” could even put the seller at risk of retaliation, Jubin argued.

“Selling such a plant representing it to be marijuana could endanger the seller as it has no significant psychoactive properties, and any purchaser would consider himself duped or cheated,” he wrote. Nor could the farmers sell the crop in the legal marijuana market, because it did not come from a licensed grow operation, Jubin argued.

Prosecutors, however, are leveling serious charges against the farmers. These include conspiracy to manufacture, deliver or possess marijuana; possession with intent to deliver marijuana; possession of marijuana; and planting or cultivating marijuana. All but the last are felonies. The conspiracy and possession-with-intent-to-deliver charges carry prison sentences of zero to 10 years. Possession of a felony weight of marijuana — over three ounces — carries a prison sentence of zero to five years.

Two more people, Brock and Shannon Dyke, who were present at the farm the day of the raid, face identical charges. Brock Dyke was a contractor doing work for the Egles, according to Jubin’s filing.

Laramie County District Attorney Leigh Ann Manlove did not respond to a request for comment by publication time.

Tipster led to ‘bust’

The trail to DCI’s raid on the farm in sleepy Albin, east of Cheyenne near the Nebraska border, began on Sept. 4, according to the charging documents. That day, a “reliable source of information” contacted DCI Special Agent J. Briggs and said he was concerned Palm-Egle was growing marijuana. The source said he or she “has known PALM-EGLE for some time,” Briggs wrote in his affidavit. The reliable source said they had seen a new addition on Palm-Egle’s farm and “believed that the new addition was what was described as a ‘greenhouse,’” Briggs wrote. The source “also claimed that he/she, noticed ‘blue lights coming from the greenhouse.’”

The source also said that Palm-Egle, who is in her 60s, talked in conversation about marijuana easing the symptoms of her multiple sclerosis.

More than a month after the tip, on Oct. 28, DCI’s Briggs “attempted to conduct physical surveillance on the residence,” he wrote. He saw car tracks but no people.

On Nov. 1, Briggs returned to the farm with another agent and went looking for someone to talk to. They did not find anyone, even after knocking on doors and entering “open barns” to look “around corners in areas that someone could possibly be, with the inability to hear Agents announcing themselves,” Briggs wrote.

He did not find anyone to talk to, but spotted “what appeared to be raw plant form marihuana” hanging in a barn with no door to hide it. Briggs then did some research, according to his affidavit. An official at the Wyoming Department of Agriculture told him that no hemp licenses had been granted yet. Briggs also found that Palm-Egle was once the registered agent for a Denver-based marijuana company, but the company no longer had a grow license.

The morning of Nov. 4, agents executed a search warrant and raided the farm, where they found the Dykes, along with their two children. Jubin describes Brock Dyke as a building contractor who worked for the Egles.

“My clients are honest small business owners,” Michael Bennett, a Laramie-based attorney representing the Dykes, said. Bennett declined to comment further on the case.

When the agents entered the barn, they found the plants had been taken down and the buds had been placed in “large brown paper bags.”

According to Briggs, Brock Dykes in an interview told the agent the plants were “clones” of marijuana plants Josh Egle had brought from a marijuana grow in Colorado.

According to Jubin’s filing, Dykes told DCI Agent Jason Moon during the raid that the crop was hemp. He provided the agent text messages from the farmers with the results of two previous tests the farmers had a commercial lab conduct on the crop. Both those tests, as well as a third one that is included as evidence in Jubin’s filing, came back below 0.3% THC. Moon shared those results with other investigating law enforcement officers, Jubin said.

Jubin will argue that the fact that the farmers were testing their crop at all suggests they were growing hemp, not pot, he wrote in his filing. This idea is consistent with what “one of the DCI agents on scene at the time of the search has said,” Jubin wrote.

“It is very surprising that this matter has come this far and gotten to this point,” Jubin wrote.

The agents took the plants in the barn, “as well as a small amount of high grade marihuana from inside the residence,” that the Dykes denied ownership of. The agents seized 327,600 grams of plants, according to the affidavit. That’s roughly 722 pounds.

WyoFile is an independent nonprofit news organization focused on Wyoming people, places and policy.

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DEA Seeks Contractor Capable Of Burning Four Tons of Marijuana Per Day

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The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) recently reached out for help burning “at least” 1,000 pounds of marijuana per hour for eight hours straight.

Every year, DEA seizes millions of marijuana plants and literal tons of raw cannabis, which eventually end up being destroyed. The successful contractor in Arizona would be responsible for burning marijuana and other controlled substances seized as evidence in drug cases “to a point where there are no detectable levels, as measured by standard analytical methods, of byproduct from the destruction process.”

“DEA shall inspect the incinerator to ensure no drug residue remains,” the agency said.

DEA posted the work description earlier this month in what’s called a “sources sought notice,” an initial step before a formal request for proposals is sent.

“This is not a request for proposals and does not obligate the Government to award a contract,” the post says. “The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) is conducting market research, and is encouraging all businesses, including small businesses, to respond to this notice.”

An accompanying statement of work gives a behind-the-scenes look at the DEA’s process of destroying seized drugs. Typical boxes weigh between 40 and 60 pounds, for example, but can weigh up to 200 pounds. Contraband might come in on “semi-trucks, tractor trailers, cargo vans, fork lifts, etc.,” the work description says.

“The drugs are usually tightly compressed ‘bricks’ or ‘bales,’” it continues, and are packaged in all sorts of materials: cardboard, wrapping paper, plastic wrap, aluminum foil, packing tape, “duct tape and derivatives,” plastic evidence bags, “grease/oil” and others. Contractors will be expected to burn that stuff, too.

To avoid potential contact highs, there must be ”proper ventilation” and “no smoke buildup” will be allowed. Other mandates include closed-circuit cameras that capture the entire process, which DEA reserves the right to access, as well as background checks and regular drug tests of all personnel.

Armed DEA agents and contractors will be present during scheduled burns.

The work is also very hush-hush, so whoever gets the job shouldn’t expect to regale friends with stories of the latest large-scale federal weed burning sesh.

“The contractor and its personnel shall hold all information obtained under the DEA contract in the strictest confidence,” the work description says. “All information obtained shall be used only for performing this contract and shall not be divulged nor made known in any manner except as necessary to perform this contract.”

The work would start January 1 of next year and the contract would expire in 2026 unless terminated sooner. The deadline to send information for would-be contractors was Friday.

DEA Seized More Marijuana Plants In 2019, But Arrests Fell

Photo courtesy of Chris Wallis // Side Pocket Images

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Harris Will Give Biden ‘Honest’ Input On Legalizing Marijuana And Other Issues As Part Of ‘Deal’

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Democratic vice presidential nominee Kamala Harris says she has a “deal” with Joe Biden to candidly share her perspective on a range of progressive policies he currently opposes, including legalizing marijuana. Separately, she also recently discussed cannabis reform in a private meeting with rapper Killer Mike.

During an interview on 60 Minutes that aired on Sunday, the senator was pressed on marijuana and numerous other issues where she and Biden disagree. In response, while she didn’t specifically commit to proactively advocating for comprehensive cannabis reform, she pledged in general that she would always share her views with the would-be president if the pair are elected next week.

“What I will do—and I promise you this and this is what Joe wants me to do, this was part of our deal—I will always share with him my lived experience as it relates to any issue that we confront,” she said after the interviewer listed cannabis legalization among a handful of issues on which she and Biden depart. “I promised Joe that I will give him that perspective and always be honest with him.”

Asked whether that perspective will be “socialist” and “progressive,” Harris laughed and said “no.”

“It is the perspective of a woman who grew up a black child in America, who was also a prosecutor, who also has a mother who arrived here at the age of 19 from India, who also, you know, likes hip hop,” she said.

The senator’s taste in music also came up during her own 2020 presidential bid, when she said in an interview that she listened to Snoop Dogg and Tupac while smoking marijuana during college despite graduating before those artists released their debut albums.

Music culture has played a key role in this election cycle, and one of the strongest voices for criminal justice reform in the industry is Killer Mike, who worked as a surrogate for Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) when he was running for the Democratic presidential nomination. The artist said he met with Harris on Friday and the two discussed cannabis business opportunities for communities of color.

As she’s done repeatedly since joining Biden’s campaign, Harris also reiterated at a rally in Pontiac, Michigan on Sunday that the administration would pursue marijuana decriminalization and expunging prior cannabis convictions.

She made similar comments during a campaign event in Atlanta last week, stating that the “war on drugs was, by every measure, a failure, and black men were hit the hardest.” That said, while the senator has come to embrace broad cannabis reform, she’s faced criticism over her past opposition to legalization and role in prosecuting people for marijuana offenses as a California prosecutor.

In another interview released last week, Harris said she and Biden “have a commitment to decriminalizing marijuana and expunging the records of people who have been convicted of marijuana offenses.”

“When you look at the awful war on drugs and the disproportionate impact it had on black men and creating then criminal records that have deprived people of access to jobs and housing and basic benefits,” she said.

There’s been some frustration among cannabis reform advocates that Harris has scaled back her reform push since joining the Democratic ticket as Biden’s running mate. During her own run for the presidential nomination, she called for comprehensive marijuana legalization but has in recent weeks focused her comments on the more modest reforms of decriminalization and expungement.

Harris, who is the lead Senate sponsor of a bill to federally deschedule marijuana, said last month that a Biden administration would not be “half-steppin’” cannabis reform or pursuing “incrementalism,” but that’s exactly how advocates would define simple decriminalization.

In any case, the senator has repeatedly discussed cannabis decriminalization on the trail. She similarly said during a vice presidential debate earlier this month that she and Biden “will decriminalize marijuana and we will expunge the records of those who have been convicted of marijuana.”

In addition to those policies, Biden backs modestly rescheduling the drug under federal law, letting states set their own policies and legalizing medical cannabis.

Musician John Legend Endorses Drug Decriminalization Ballot Measure In Oregon

Photo element courtesy of California Attorney General’s Office.

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GOP Tennessee Senator Calls For Medical Marijuana Legalization In New Campaign Ad

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A Tennessee senator touted his support for legalizing medical marijuana in a campaign ad released on Friday.

In the 30-second spot, which has notably high production value for this kind of local race, state Sen. Steve Dickerson (R) talks about both the therapeutic benefits of cannabis and the consequences of broader marijuana criminalization.

“As your state senator, I’ve led the fight to legalize medical marijuana so our veterans and sickest Tennesseans can deal with chronic pain,” he said. “But this same life-saving plant has led to mass incarceration, with nonviolent marijuana possession resulting in lengthy prison sentences.”

“I think that’s wrong. That’s why I’ve been pushing for criminal justice reform,” the senator added.

Dickerson, who sponsored a medical cannabis legalization bill that cleared a Senate committee in March, said in a Q&A published earlier this month that the policy change would be among his top three legislative priorities if he’s reelected.

His Democratic opponent, former Oak Hill Mayor Heidi Campbell, is in favor of “fully legalizing marijuana,” with her campaign site stating that cannabis crimes “disproportionately impact people of color and it’s time to end marijuana prohibition.”

But while Dickerson has earned a reputation as a moderate Republican given his positions on issues like cannabis reform, he’s faced backlash after declining to denounce an independent ad taken out on his behalf that some, including the LGBTQ rights organization Tennessee Equality Project (TEP), called racist.

The ad, which was paid for by Lt. Gov. Randy McNally’s (R) political action committee MCPAC, hits Campbell over her support for a nonprofit organization that is designed to keep young people out of prison, and it frames the group as “radical” and “extremist.” TEP rescinded their endorsement of Dickerson over his refusal to condemn the ad.

In the Tennessee legislature, marijuana reform has yet to pass—but there’s growing recognition that voters are in favor of the policy change. For example, former House Speaker Glen Casada (R) released the results of a constituent survey last year that showed 73 percent of those in his district back medical cannabis legalization.

Another former GOP House speaker, Beth Harwell, highlighted her support for the reform proposal during her unsuccessful bid for governor in 2018, and she referenced President Trump’s stated support for medical marijuana on the campaign trail.

In other Tennessee drug policy politics, a lawmaker in June blocked a resolution to honor murdered teen Ashanti Posey because she was allegedly involved in a low-level cannabis sale the day she was killed.

New York Will Legalize Marijuana ‘Soon’ To Aid Economic Recovery From COVID, Governor Cuomo Says

Photo courtesy of Philip Steffan.

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