Monday, August 3, 2009

Octagenarian Gets Month Long Sentences for Compassionate Cannabis USE

Pot grower, 81, will serve 30 days in jail

Police found more than 500 plants, guns and $44,000 in cash

By John Burnett
Hawaii Tribune-Herald

Posted on: Monday, August 3, 2009

HILO, Hawai'i — An 81-year-old Ka'u man was sentenced last week to
30 days in jail for growing marijuana.

Under terms of a plea agreement, Hilo Circuit Judge Greg Nakamura also
sentenced Leovegildo Mercado of Pahala, to 60 days of home electronic
monitoring and five years' probation.

Mercado pleaded no contest June 5 to second-degree commercial promotion
of marijuana. Prosecutors reduced a first-degree commercial promotion
charge, and dropped two other commercial promotion charges, one count of
promoting a detrimental drug and six firearms offenses in exchange for
Mercado's plea.

Mercado was arrested Sept. 11 after police searched his Pakalana Street
home. A search warrant was issued following aerial surveillance of the
area. Officers found 506 marijuana plants, 4.9 pounds of dried
marijuana, two rifles, a handgun and ammunition.

Deputy Prosecutor Jefferson Malate argued for the jail term.

"The significant amount of marijuana found indicates that the defendant
was engaged not only in the use, but in the distribution of it," Malate
said. "He has injected marijuana into the community."

Mercado's attorney, Deputy Public Defender Michael Ebesugawa, argued
that Mercado "indicated he was using marijuana for medicinal purposes."
He said that the lack of packaging materials found in Mercado's home,
such as zipper-lock plastic bags and vacuum sealers, is evidence that
Mercado was not selling the drug.

In asking for probation without jail time, or that any jail term be
suspended or stayed, Ebesugawa cited Mercado's age and limited criminal
record. He said that Mercado forfeited bail on a cruelty to animals
charge in 1959, was convicted of cruelty to animals in 1975, and was
allowed a deferred plea acceptance on a marijuana charge in 1982, which
means it is not a part of his permanent criminal record.

"Mr. Mercado is a valued member of the community," Ebesugawa said. "He
is not someone you would consider a danger to the community, but is a
constant in the Pahala community."

Police also seized almost $44,000 in cash for forfeiture in Mercado's
residence. Ebesugawa said he has advised Mercado not to talk about it,
since he is contesting the state's effort to confiscate the money. He
said that the money, plus a scale found in Mercado's home, were there
because Mercado was selling homemade smoked meat and Portuguese sausage.

Mercado, who was born in the Philippines, appeared in court with Ilocano
interpreter Antonia Lambayan, and requested a hearing-impaired headset.

"If possible, I would like no jail," he told the judge. "I will follow
the rules. I will obey the law. This will never happen again."

When Ebesugawa told Mercado that he had received a 30-day jail sentence,
Mercado dropped his headset on the defense table and his knees visibly

Mercado, who was described by Ebesugawa as a "lifelong pig hunter,"
won't be allowed to own, possess or use firearms or ammunition, a
standard condition of probation.

Nakamura allowed Mercado to remain free until this morning, so he can
make arrangements for care of his animals.

After sentencing, Mercado laughed and bantered with family members and
Lambayan outside the courtroom.

"Only 30 days," he said, flashing a grin.

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