Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Pot grower gets 21 days in jail

Cops walk out of hearing; prosecutor displeased with sentence

Express Staff Writer

Daniel E. Collins, a 65-year-old former Blaine County resident who now lives in Nevada, was sentenced Monday to 21 days in jail for growing a half-dozen marijuana plants at his home in Hulen Meadows, north of Ketchum. Photo by Willy Cook

A former Blaine County man was sentenced Monday to 21 days in jail for growing a half dozen marijuana plants at his home in Hulen Meadows north of Ketchum.

Sixty-five-year-old Daniel E. Collins, who now lives in Las Vegas, Nev., was also given a withheld judgment, which means the conviction can later be removed from his record. The withheld judgment did not apparently sit well with several members of the Blaine County Narcotics Enforcement Team, who walked out of the court hearing, seemingly in frustration or protest, before sentencing was finished.

Blaine County Prosecuting Attorney Jim Thomas was not pleased with the withheld judgment either, and wrote in an e-mail to the Idaho Mountain Express after Monday's hearing that "we take issue with the granting of a withheld judgment in this case."

Collins, a U.S. Navy and Vietnam War veteran, claims he smokes marijuana to relieve pain in his back from an injury he received in 1981 when serving on the USS America aircraft carrier.

Medicinal use of marijuana is legal in California and more than a dozen other states, but not in Idaho.

"This is not a referendum on marijuana, but it's a felony under Idaho law," Blaine County 5th District Court Judge Robert J. Elgee said at Monday's sentencing hearing.

Elgee also fined Collins $1,000, ordered 100 hours of community service and placed him on probation for three years. He allowed Collins a week to get his affairs in order before beginning his jail sentence on Monday, June 28.

The case against Collins dates back to Sept. 18, when fully armed members of the Narcotics Enforcement Team, commonly referred to as the NET, showed up at Collins' Hulen Meadows residence with a search warrant. The NET reported then that Collins had three growing marijuana plants and an unspecified amount of marijuana drying.

Collins was initially charged with manufacture of a controlled substance, but the charge was reduced to felony possession of marijuana in a plea agreement reached in May.

Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Matt Fredback said at Monday's court hearing that Collins was in possession of more than 3 ounces of marijuana and had the equivalent of about six plants, which Fredback said were capable of producing a pound of smoke-quality marijuana each.

"Just that amount alone makes it unlikely that someone could smoke that much marijuana," Fredback said.

He further said that Collins had "denied selling but admitted giving it away."

"He served his country, but at the same time he had a serious marijuana growing operation in his home," Fredback said.

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Hailey attorney Douglas Werth, who was appointed public defender for Collins, reminded the court that Collins had only pleaded guilty to felony possession of marijuana.

"There is no credible evidence that Mr. Collins has been a drug dealer or is selling marijuana," Werth said. "Yes, Mr. Collins had three growing marijuana plants in his home—he has admitted to that. He was doing that so that he wouldn't have to go out and buy marijuana from people on the streets.

"His crime was to be in the state of Idaho," Werth said. "If he'd have stayed in California, it wouldn't be a crime."

Werth was referring to a permit that Collins has for using marijuana medicinally in California.

Collins told the court that he suffers "crippling and debilitating" back pain from his injury aboard the USS America and that taking narcotics is "intolerable" because of their side effects.

"My motivation for using marijuana is strictly related to my pain," Collins said. "I broke the law, and I am sorry for that."

In the e-mail to the Express, Thomas wrote that Collins may not qualify for a withheld judgement.

"Under the statute, the judge must find by a preponderance of evidence that one, Collins cooperated with law enforcement during the investigation of his crime, and two, that the judge has an abiding conviction that Collins will successfully complete the terms of his probation, which includes refraining from illegal use of marijuana," Thomas wrote. "Collins never cooperated with law enforcement and by his own admission continues to smoke marijuana."

Thomas said Tuesday that he is filing a motion with the court asking Elgee to reconsider his ruling.

Collins said in an interview after the hearing that he has a temporary permit to use marijuana for medicinal purposes in Nevada.

He also disputed Fredback's calculations on marijuana production.

"I don't know where any of those people got their figures on how much you can grow with one plant," Collins said. "Get a pound of pot from one plant? You'll be lucky getting an ounce of pot from a plant."

Terry Smith:

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