South Dakota: Jury Acquits Tribal Marijuana Consultant on All Charges

FLANDREAU, SD — A marijuana consultant from a Colorado-based firm has been found not guilty of drug-related charges related to his work with a South Dakota tribe’s failed attempt to open a marijuana cultivation facility and smoking lounge in 2015.

Eric Hagen, president of the Colorado-based cannabis consulting firm Monarch America was charged with possession of more than 10 pounds of marijuana, conspiracy to possess more than 10 pounds of marijuana, and attempt to possess more than 10 pounds of marijuana, resulting from his work helping the Santee Sioux Tribe grow marijuana, a crop which was later burned by tribal officials.

Jonathan Hunt, Vice president of Monarch America, pleaded guilty to similar charges in August 2016.

Prosecutors, often making air quotes around the word “consulting” during arguments to the jury, argued that the duo were actively involved in the cannabis cultivation process beyond consultation, according to Courthouse News:

“We wouldn’t be here if all they did was consult,” Assistant Attorney General Bridget Mayer said, referring to Hagen and Hunt. “That’s not what happened. Hunt did seed ordering, planting, moving, lighting, and watering.

“Constructive possession is having access and control,” she continued. “There can be no doubt that Jon Hunt possessed that marijuana. Possession need not be exclusive; [the tribe] was not in exclusive possession of this marijuana, they shared it with the co-conspirators.”

Mayer argued that Hagen was aiding and abetting in Hunt’s admitted possession of the marijuana. “He’s talking constantly to Jon Hunt, giving input on which seeds to pick, and is a problem-solver . . . It might have started out that they were just going to be consultants, but it didn’t turn out that way.”

Prosecutors said the consultants ordered cannabis seeds, planted, cultivated and tended nearly 600 cannabis plants without tribal members present, and ultimately burned the tribe’s marijuana crop under the threat of a federal raid.

But defense attorneys say the charges against the consultants were politically motivated, calling the charges a “case of building a crime where there was none.”

Defense attorneys criticized law enforcement for not taking action against the consultants until nine months after the tribe’s crop had already been destroyed.

“If Hunt and Hagen were effectively confessing to possession of marijuana, they should have been arrested,” argued Mike Butler, who represents Hagen. “That’s not what they did . . . Why? The answer has been upfront from the beginning. Not one of the law enforcement officers involved in this for a moment believed that Mr. Hagen and Mr. Hunt were in the process of committing a crime against the state of South Dakota.”

“This was a political dispute, not a drug case,” he added. “This is a power dispute, not a drug case. And my client and Mr. Hunt are collateral damage. That’s what they are, in a fight between other people about jurisdiction and who’s got the real power.”

Jurors deliberated for only two hours before delivering a not-guilty verdict.

In 2014, the United States Department of Justice released a memo implying the federal government would not prosecute the cultivation of marijuana on tribal land.

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