Jury Clears Tribal Marijuana Consultant on All Charges

Marijuana plants in the “grow room” of the Santee Sioux Tribe’s now-defunct pot facility.
Photo credit: Lacey Louwagie

FLANDREAU, S.D. (CN) – A state jury found a non-Indian consultant who worked on a South Dakota tribe’s failed attempt to open a marijuana grow facility and smoking lounge not guilty of all drug-related charges Wednesday.

The state of South Dakota charged Eric Matthew Hagen, president of Colorado-based consulting firm Monarch America, with possession of more than 10 lbs. marijuana, conspiracy to possess more than 10 lbs. of marijuana, and attempt to possess more than 10 lbs. of marijuana, for his work with the Santee Sioux Tribe on their proposed operation.

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

The jury deliberated for two hours before delivering its not-guilty verdict, which brought tears to the eyes of family and friends who had gathered in the courtroom to support Hagen.

Earlier that morning, Assistant Attorney General Bridget Mayer delivered an impassioned closing argument for the prosecution, frequently making air quotes around the words “consulting” when she referred to Hagen’s role in the Santee Sioux Tribe’s plans to run a marijuana operation on reservation land.

“We wouldn’t be here if all they did was consult,” she 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.”

She listed ordering the marijuana seeds, picking them up at the tribal office, planting, cultivating and tending 600 marijuana plants without tribal members present, thinning the crop down to 250 plants, buying a plumbing part for the grow facility and ultimately burning the supply of marijuana under the threat of a federal raid as overt acts in furtherance of the conspiracy to possess more than 10 lbs. of marijuana.

“Hunt and Hagen are going to get a percentage of the sales – the more sales they get, the more money they make,” she said. “What was the motive? The motive is to be kind and gracious and share marijuana with everyone in South Dakota? No, the motive is to make money.”

But the defense painted a picture of a legal battle that was politically motivated.

“As I listened to counsel’s closing argument, I was reminded of having read a historical book and then going to the movie only to be disappointed that they took great license with the facts,” Hagen’s attorney, Mike Butler, began. “That’s what happened here for the case of building a crime where there was none.”

Accusing the state of “rewriting the law” relating to possession of marijuana, Butler criticized law enforcement for not taking action until nine months after the tribe’s crop had already been destroyed.

“[Department of Criminal Investigation Agent Sam] Kavanagh talked about what they did in normal drug investigations, and they didn’t do any of that here,” he said, referring to Kavanagh’s testimony on the trial’s opening day. “If Hunt and Hagen were effectively confessing to possession of marijuana, they should have been arrested. 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.”

Butler implored the jury to take law enforcement’s hesitation into account when they deliberated their verdict. “The proof has to be so convincing of their allegation that you don’t hesitate to convict,” he said. “Then why did everyone else hesitate? Not just hesitate – they did nothing, knowing all the facts.

“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.”

In the state’s rebuttal, Mayer said that without the “law or the facts” on their side, the defense had resorted to “attack[ing] the cops and the prosecutors. This defendant is going to do anything to get the attention off of him.”

State Circuit Judge Patrick Pardy presided over the trial, which took place in the Moody County Courthouse and wrapped up two days ahead of schedule.

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