by Carla Occaso
MONTPELIER — One half of a Moretown couple, who both worked at Montpelier’s Medical Marijuana Dispensary, appeared in court after being busted together for having pot at their home this fall. The other came out unscathed. Both Benjamin Jenkins, 38, and his wife, Nicole (Brooke) Jenkins, 36, were employed at the medical dispensary at the time of a felony marijuana cultivation and possession arrest October 14. Benjamin worked as the cultivation manager and Nicole as dispensary manager.
During the December 10 arraignment, Washington County State’s Attorney Scott Williams charged Benjamin Jenkins with growing less than three plants of marijuana (misdemeanor), possession of two or more ounces of marijuana (felony) and possession of a narcotic. He was released on conditions. However, charges were not pressed against his wife. Although she was initially arrested and processed at the Middlesex barracks along with her husband, further investigation led authorities to believe she was not responsible for the crime. A spouse is not culpable for the other spouse’s behavior, Williams said.
Authorities discovered the plants growing on the Jenkins’ property when a neighbor reported “his young children followed a path through the tall brush behind the residences on Gravel Lane. At the end of the path, behind a neighbor’s house […], they observed what they described to be marijuana growing in planters pots.” The neighbor further reported to police that the property was owned by employees of the marijuana dispensary in Montpelier. “He advised he knows that his neighbors bring home recycled potting soil and wasn’t sure if other items from the dispensary were brought with it,” the Vermont State Police affidavit states.
Lindsey Wells, Vermont State marijuana program director, told troopers “employees may take home old potting soil, but are not allowed to remove anything from the dispensary that would contain Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the psychoactive constituent of the plant,” the affidavit states.
When troopers went to the Jenkins’ community on October 13, neighbors invited them on to their own properties to view the plants without entering the Jenkins’ property. While there, Trooper Brandon Degre reported seeing plants and “a pile of potting soil and roots in the (Jenkins’) backyard.” As a result, troopers executed a search warrant at 2 p.m. October 14 at the Jenkins’ residence while they were away. A trooper called Nicole (Brooke) at work to let her know what was going on so she could “either intercept or redirect” her children — due home at 2:30 p.m. During the search, troopers found three marijuana plants, branches and stems outside, and inside they found a “green leafy substance,” which looked like processed marijuana — that later tested positive for marijuana. A total of 1.81 pounds of pot were seized. In addition, authorities obtained brown bottles with “an unknown liquid,” and one with a label “describing the contents as THC oil,” which provided a lot number from Vermont Patients Alliance, the nonprofit organization that runs Montpelier’s dispensary. Also, found in the master bedroom of the home were pills, including hydrocodone prescribed to a different person. Troopers called both Jenkins at work and asked them to report to the barracks where they were processed.
Both Jenkins were suspended without pay, Wells said. Still, despite the incident, there were no obvious consequences for patients who use the dispensary, Wells said. And yet, it may have created a wrinkle for those who want to legalize marijuana.
Washington County State’s Attorney Scott Williams said he favors the legalization of marijuana for many reasons and that this case has jeopardized it.
“As the state’s attorney of Washington County, I am in favor of regulated legalization of marijuana,” Williams said. “This case concerns me because they have involvement with the dispensary.” Williams said that people who get involved with legal production and distribution of medical marijuana should make an extra effort to abide by the law, because, “when something like this happens it could be seen as ammunition for the anti-legalization folks.”
Williams said he supports regulated legalization of marijuana because, he said, “I don’t think that the criminalization has met the intended goal to get people to stop using marijuana. We have an entire generation of people that have convictions,” which makes getting a job, education and living a productive life more difficult. “I believe having it (marijuana) regulated and taxed and legal is a better option than having it illegal and completely unregulated.”
The Bridge unsuccessfully tried to find a way to contact Benjamin (by telephone or online). And, when seeking input from Vermont Patients Alliance, the person who answered the phone said “I’ll take your name and number and pass it onto my board.” Brooke Jenkins, reached through social media, wrote, “Thank you for reaching out. I look forward to being able to tell my side of the story, but for now I have no comment.”