“I just did everything I was supposed to do, I thought,” LaDonna told the Guardian.
On the day of the arrest, the police report claimed there were 18 marijuana plants on the premises, but Randy Kennedy claims there were only nine, just three more than the legal limit in states such as California.
When reached at her restaurant, she had nothing but praise for both of the Kennedys. LaDonna, with whom she attended high school, was called a “great mayor” and Randy was known to be a “sweetheart of a guy”. She identified those who were angry at the Kennedys as members of an older generation clinging to conservative ways.
The initial reporting by Iowa media, largely sourced from Guthrie county authorities, had all the low-stakes scandal and situational irony to make a trending news story on social media. The story took off, with many articles noting the time of the arrest in the lead of their story (420 is shorthand for cannabis), while the Kennedys were besieged by the media in the wake of their arrest.
Police arrived at their front door without a warrant on 16 January, reportedly in search of an 18-year-old wanted for shooting a woman in nearby Ames. According to the Guthrie county police, the “overwhelming odor of raw marijuana” led to the discovery of a large crop of marijuana plants. The couple was arrested, and LaDonna Kennedy stepped down from her position as mayor shortly after.
At approximately 4.20pm, the mayor of Jamaica, a town of 217 people in central Iowa, was arrested along with her husband for growing marijuana in their home.
In early 2020, before the coronavirus pandemic brought all business to a screeching halt, the Republican governor, Kim Reynolds, expressed approval of a small expansion of Iowa’s medical marijuana program that would allow 4.5g of THC for patients every 90 days. Last year, Reynolds said directly that she would “not be the governor” to legalize marijuana.
“I grew up in that town and it means something to me,” she said. “It was a safe place to grow up and I needed to take care of it.”
LaDonna Kennedy resigned immediately after the arrest. But the Kennedys, longtime fixtures and known good samaritans, have enjoyed a great deal of support from members of their community.
LaDonna and Randy continue to help their community in the ways they are still allowed. LaDonna volunteers with a group that works to send underprivileged girls to summer camp. Randy still clears snow from the driveways of local widows. The couple remains there for the community when needed.
Only a year before her arrest, LaDonna underwent hip surgery. Before the surgery, she dealt with constant pain that, at times, left her barely mobile. She turned to marijuana to help mitigate it and help with sleep.
L aDonna married Randy Kennedy in 1990 and, over the next 20 or so years, they raised two daughters together. LaDonna worked at the same eye care clinic in nearby Panora for 25 years, and Randy has long run his own tree-trimming and yard-care service. Now 51 and 59 years old respectively, the couple had long been looking toward spending a peaceful retirement.
The future of medical marijuana in Iowa is not a bright one. A long-held Republican vice-like grip across all segments of the state government has stymied any push for more liberal drug laws.
Jamaica suffers from many of the same problems as small rural towns across America. A yellow-and-orange sign with a palm tree among the endless rows of corn and soybean that surround Highway 141, and a skeletal water tower, are the only indicators of the town’s existence. The derelict shell of a long-closed high school sits at the eastern edge of town. The structures along Main Street are mostly boarded up, with the exception of a small library, a post office and ToJo’s, the town’s lone restaurant.
But the Kennedys’ arrest not only turned their lives upside down, it revealed the fault lines of a community – ones that reflect a growing tolerance for marijuana even in America’s rural heartland that stands at odds with its more conservative leadership.
“It’s just marijuana. I can sit in here and drink 10 or 12 beers, and that’s OK?” she said, when anyone dared complain in her restaurant. “If that’s what they like to do, so be it. They’re in their house, they’re not hurting anyone. Where were you guys, you didn’t bitch when we had a big meth bust in town. You haven’t said one word about that.”
The Kennedys found that the state of Iowa, however, was less forgiving. Nine months after their arrest, LaDonna and Randy Kennedy pleaded guilty to manufacturing, delivering and possessing drugs with the intent to manufacture or deliver marijuana. In return, they received two years’ probation. The sentence was lenient, considering a class D felony in Iowa can result in a five-year prison sentence.
Like many crime reports that explode across the digital news ecosystem with an amusing headline, the initial articles didn’t tell the whole story. After the buzz faded, a small, close-knit community was left divided, and a middle-aged couple who had devoted their entire lives to this town faced the prospect of prison time for self-medicating using a substance that in many other states is legal, and in others decriminalized.
You can be arrested for growing even one marijuana plant. The severity of the penalties you face will vary depending on the quantity of your plantings.
If you have previously been convicted of any other drug, controlled substance, or marijuana cultivation offense in the past, the minimum mandatory penalties increase upon sentencing. A second offense is punishable by a $30,000 fine and a minimum prison sentence of four years. You could face even greater fines depending on how much money you made from the illegal marijuana cultivation.
Other possible consequences of a marijuana cultivation conviction:
The Number of Marijuana Plants That Can Get You Arrested.
In Allegheny County and throughout western Pennsylvania, people frequently cultivate marijuana plants and with the recent signing of the Pennsylvania medical marijuana bill, this may seem like a relief to marijuana growers. But it is important to remember that while the new medical marijuana law allows patients with one of 17 qualifying conditions to access the drug, the medical marijuana must be purchased from an authorized dispensary. Therefore, if you are found with marijuana plants even if the crop is just for your own use, it can still cause serious legal problems.
If you grow marijuana in your basement or garden, and the police charge you with the cultivation of marijuana, you will need to retain a defense attorney who is knowledgeable in the current marijuana laws.
If you are caught growing two to 10 pounds of marijuana, or 10 to 21 plants, you risk one year in prison and $5,000 in fines for a first offense. For a second offense, you can face two years in prison and $10,000 in fines.
Your marijuana lawyer will go over what happened both before and after your arrest. Importantly, he or she will assess whether there was probable cause to charge you with a crime. This includes determining if the marijuana plantings really belonged to you.
If you cultivated 10 to 50 pounds, or 21 to 51 plants, you can draw three years in prison and $15,000 in fines for a first offense.
Marijuana charges as considered criminal offenses, and it’s best to have an experienced Pittsburgh marijuana defense attorney on your side to help you navigate the complexity of the legal process around these cases. Your attorney can help evaluate the evidence being brought against you by the Commonwealth and assess what can and cannot be used to prosecute you. It’s also important to have an attorney who understands how to fight these types of cases and work toward maintaining your rights by drawing on prior experience and an in-depth understanding of the Pittsburgh criminal system.
Steps to Take if You Have Been Charged.
Your rights are at stake and you need the best defense to keep them. I will fight using the strongest defense available to get your Cultivation of Marijuana charge reduced or dismissed so you can move on with your life.
How a Marijuana Charge Can Harm You.
Sentencing him at Cardiff Crown Court Judge Richard Twomlow said it was a small-scale but sophisticated cannabis factory.
He told the defendant: “You seem motivated to address your problems with cannabis which have been long-standing.”
The court heard Gwent Police executed a drugs warrant at Gwern Avenue in Senghenydd, Caerphilly, on June 28 last year.
Police dismantled the facility at Gwern Street and found the plants were healthy and in the early stages of flowering at nine to 10 weeks old.
Mr Mitchard said Smith had been seeking help, although that support had been limited by the pandemic, and he was hoping to return to face-to-face meetings soon.
Gareth James, prosecuting, said: “Cannabis was being cultivated in the basement.”
The court heard he had 31 previous offences on his record but none for producing drugs. He was last before the court in 2004 for benefit fraud.
The judge said the pre-sentence report was “encouraging”, adding: “It seems to me he is trying to address the problems of addiction to cannabis that have beset him for a very long time.”
Prosecutors said they had not reached full maturity and were estimated to produce a yield between 24 and 72 ounces, worth between around £4,000 and £15,000.
Police said the set-up contained more expensive equipment than they would usually find in a home-growing facility.
An expert estimated the yield to be between 22 ounces and 66 ounces, with wholesale value up to £15,000.
He told the court: “He has taken this matter extremely seriously. He would take any assistance offered by the Probation Service.”
Officers found 24 cannabis plants along with plant food, heat lamps, and fans.
Smith was given a 12-month prison sentence, suspended for 12 months, and ordered to complete 10 days of a rehabilitation activity. He must pay £100 towards prosecution costs.
Mr James said the average user smokes between 1g and 5g a day, with a heavy user smoking 5g, and his explanation was not sufficient for the quantities being produced.
Judge Twomlow said: “It is a long time since he has been in any trouble.”
Ed Mitchard, defending, asked for any prison sentence to be suspended rather than immediate. He stressed his client cooperated with the police and was “very forthright” with officers by indicating there were plants at the second address.
The court heard Smith admitted there was a second property involved in nearby Commercial Street.