Iowa Mayor and Husband Arrested for Basement Marijuana Grow Operation

The bizarre story of a marijuana bust at an Iowa mayor’s home has exposed a little-known weapon in the mass incarceration-fueling War on Drugs.

There’s some strange stuff going in on Jamaica, Iowa, a small town just under an hour’s drive northwest from Des Moines. On Thursday, Guthrie County sheriff’s deputies arrested Jamaica mayor LaDonna Kennedy and her husband Randy Kennedy after discovering a basement marijuana grow operation in their house.

Search for Attempted Murder Suspect Uncovers Small-Town Mayor’s Basement Grow

A small-town mayor going down for a basement grow op may not be interesting enough on its own—somebody has to grow weed for a town of barely 300 residents, right? Why not the mayor? But this story gets weird fast.

In the first place, police weren’t even searching for weed when they stumbled across the Kennedy’s basement grow. Instead, sheriff’s deputies were on the hunt for a suspect in an attempted murder. They’d received a tip that the suspect, Rodney Halterman, was hiding in the mayor’s home.

KCCI reports that Halterman, who is 18, is the foster sibling of Randy Kennedy’s granddaughter. The Saturday prior to the Kennedy’s arrest, Halterman allegedly discharged a firearm in the middle of a fight with another man. A bullet hit a 19-year-old woman, Iesha Jabbar, in the chest, according to police reports. Halterman fled the scene.

But Halterman didn’t go to his foster grandfather’s house, despite the tip police received. Nevertheless, while executing their search warrant for Halterman, police detected an “overwhelming odor of raw marijuana” emanating from the Kennedy’s house. That led sheriff’s deputies to obtain another search warrant to look for the weed. When they came back to complete their search, they found 18 mature cannabis plants, nine large packages of marijuana and unspecified “drug paraphernalia.”

No details have emerged as to why the Kennedy’s were growing so much cannabis in their basement. Or for whom. The whole thing caught Guthrie County Sheriff Marty Arganbright by surprise. Speaking with reporters, Arganbright said “we all know each other in Guthrie County, so it was a surprise.”

Drug Charges Against Iowa Mayor Expose “Tax Stamp” Laws that Dramatically Increase Drug Sentences

In the courtroom, however, mayor LaDonna Kennedy and her husband Randy were in for a surprise of their own. Prosecutors charged the couple with manufacture with intent to deliver marijuana. That’s the top charge, followed by possession of a controlled substance and two counts of failure to affix a drug stamp. Manufacture, possession, intent to distribute: common enough. But “failure to affix a drug stamp”?

It turns out, Iowa has a Drug Tax Stamp law that makes it a separate crime to sell illegal substances without first purchasing and then affixing a drug tax stamp. These laws exist in addition to the better-known laws prohibiting the sale, possession and manufacture of illegal drugs.

These Drug Tax Stamp laws even have their own requirements. For weed, a drug tax stamp is required for anything in excess of 42.4 grams of cannabis. Or, for one cannabis plant. For hard drugs, like cocaine and heroin, the requirement is 7 or more grams. Have anything like that in your possession, and the law requires you to buy and put a sticker on it. And if you don’t, you’ve committed a Class D felony, carrying a 5 year prison term and an additional $1,500 fine.

Does Iowa really expect persons dealing with illegal substances to buy tax stamps and label them? Of course not. The laws are in place to “enhance” criminal sentencing for drug charges, especially non-violent manufacture and possession charges. And 21 states have such drug tax stamp laws on the books specifically for cannabis. Most are prohibition states. But some are still technically on the books in places where weed is legal, like Massachusetts.

Drury, ByAdam. “Iowa Mayor and Husband Arrested for Basement Marijuana Grow Operation.” Green Rush Daily, 18 Jan. 2019, greenrushdaily.com/news/iowa-mayor-and-husband-arrested-for-basement-marijuana-grow-operation/.

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