It may not have been wise for Joseph Lightfoot to open a state-licensed medical-marijuana growing operation in his basement with three kids in the house, but his actions didn’t warrant jail time, said a Denver County Court judge, who complained that prosecutors “overcharged” Lightfoot.
Lightfoot was initially charged with felony child abuse under a statute designed to keep parents from operating highly explosive home meth labs.
Prosecutors dismissed the felony count in July after Lightfoot pleaded guilty to two misdemeanor child-abuse counts.
On Monday, Lightfoot, 31, was sentenced to a year’s probation and 60 days of in-home detention and ordered to take a responsible-parenting class.
“This was overcharged,” Judge Andre Rudolph told Lightfoot at his sentencing. “But you’ve got to make better decisions. This is not about the legalities of medical marijuana. It’s about the kids.”
Defense attorney Daniel Murphy said the felony charge left his client struggling to find work and embroiled in a custody battle.
Felony child-abuse charges against pot growers are rare. Murphy argued that raising the plants doesn’t constitute the manufacture of a controlled substance, as the meth-tailored statute requires.
That legal question eventually led prosecutors to lessen the charges, though they remained concerned about the children’s welfare, said Denver district attorney’s office spokeswoman Lynn Kimbrough.
“We had very serious concerns about the safety of the children in that home, where almost 60 marijuana plants were found. We went forward in good faith with the initial charges,” she said.
Officers arrived at Lightfoot’s house in June 2010 after a loud argument alarmed a neighbor. The strong odor of growing marijuana led them to the basement, according to police reports.
They charged Lightfoot and his wife, Amber Wildenstein, with felony child abuse, citing a number of potential hazards to the three children, ages 8 to 12: There wasn’t a lock on the basement door. There were small amounts of cut marijuana elsewhere in the home. The growing operation — with its chemicals, ventilation problems and allure to would-be robbers — brought up “numerous concerns regarding the children,” according to arrest affidavits.
University of Denver law professor and former New York prosecutor Kris Miccio said the concerns raised by the pot-growing operation also could be raised in homes where there’s a liquor cabinet, cleaning supplies under the sink or valuables that could entice criminals to break in.
“If a police officer brought that into my office, I would have thrown him out and called his supervisor,” Miccio said. “It’s crazy. It opens the door to anything.”
– Article originally from The Denver Post.