When Arlin Troutt was sentenced in February 1996 for a marijuana-selling conspiracy, a crowd of supporters came to the Minneapolis federal courtroom to cheer him on.
The Arizona resident and former frontman for a line of hempwear affiliated with country singer Willie Nelson had been convicted of conspiring to transport and sell about 250 pounds of marijuana. Then 46, Troutt railed against the government's anti-marijuana policies to the judge, extolling the plant's value as "food, fuel, fiber, and medicine."
His lawyer told the press the speech probably added 19 months to Troutt's sentence of eight years, one month.
Troutt, now 64 and living in Gold Canyon, is still fighting the Man in the name of cannabis. He vows to appeal an administrative law judge's August 12 ruling that upholds a state rule prohibiting medical-marijuana patients from growing marijuana within 25 miles of a dispensary.
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"The law doesn't say you can't grow marijuana," Troutt says emphatically. "I've read this law a million times now. Nothing in there restricts cultivation whatsoever."
Along with his wife, Cathy, Troutt has operated a company/organization called U.S. Hemp since the mid-1990s, selling hemp goods and putting up a website in 2011 that aims to promote all things cannabis. (The site's mainly been used to track Troutt's legal battles.) "We're not NORML," he likes to say, referring to the national legalization group.
"I've been doing this since I was 15," he tells New Times.
Doing what? we ask.
"Growing marijuana in my backyard and making hash in my kitchen -- that's what!" he says with a laugh.
Dave Walker, a former writer for New Times, wrote about Troutt's business association with Willie Nelson in a December 23, 1992, article, describing how they planned to market items made with industrial hemp like "ball caps, fanny packs, and signature shirts . . ." That was back when hardly anyone knew what industrial hemp was. According to Walker's article:
"Troutt met Nelson a few years ago, when both men owned fairway-side homes on Nelson's golf course, located near Austin, Texas . . . Troutt had prepared for that meeting by leading an admittedly colorful and somewhat mysterious existence, including, he says, stints as a professional guitarist in Phoenix and raising fighting cocks in Mexico. 'I have made a lot of easy money in my life,' he says, somewhat cryptically. It was while living in Mexico that Troutt had seen huge bales of marijuana stalks piled beside roadways, the unsmokable detritus of the international pot trade, and began to study the plant's many uses."
A few months later, Walker talked to Troutt while the activist was "on the lam," with federal drug agents looking to arrest him on what he claimed were trumped-up conspiracy charges. He told Walker he was "the victim of a government plot designed to intimidate entertainers -- his friend Willie, especially -- who have endorsed the movement to legalize hemp." He also admits to a tumultuous past that included other trips to jail.
The law caught up to Troutt eventually, landing him before U.S. District Judge James Rosenbaum for his sentencing.
"Fear and ignorance guided by greed and blind ambition created the prohibition of hemp," Troutt told the judge in 1996, according to an article at the time in the Minneapolis Star-Tribune. "I am morally and intellectually compelled to resist these forces. When the American people find out what hemp is and why it's really illegal, may they deal with this government as harshly as it has dealt with me."
A father of six children, Troutt returned to his property in Gold Canyon after doing his eight years in the slammer. Then, in 2010, Arizona voters approved Proposition 203, making marijuana legal for qualified medicinal users. Troutt, who says he has multiple conditions, was one of the first patients to obtain a registration card. His card, like that of other patients who signed up with the state system before any state-authorized dispensaries had opened, approved him for cultivation.
Troutt did grow for a time, he says. He describes the day in 2012 that Pinal County Sheriff's Office deputies raided his property after someone reported that he had plants growing outdoors. He says Sheriff Paul Babeu got on the phone to the supervising deputy and told him to stand down. (We didn't check up on the claim.)
For Troutt and an estimated 98 percent of patients these days, however, the cultivation approval has been withdrawn because of the opening of medical-marijuana dispensaries.
Under a provision of the Arizona medical-marijuana law, the application that patients submit to the state must include, "A designation as to who will be allowed to cultivate marijuana plants for the qualifying patient's medical use if a registered nonprofit medical marijuana dispensary is not operating within 25 miles of the qualifying patient's home."
That's the basis for the 25-mile rule. The state Department of Health Services, which oversees the medical-marijuana system, further codified the cultivation restriction in its official rules and procedures. Officials set up the dispensary system so that most of the state would be covered by a 25-mile radius around each dispensary, ensuring that the areas where patients could still grow their own pot legally were few and far between.
The 25-mile rule, as part of the ballot proposition, was mentioned in the press, in DHS director Will Humble's blog, and before the 2010 election, and in the "Analysis by Legislative Council" section of the official state pre-election publicity pamphlet.
Troutt, however, believes that people should have the right to grow marijuana freely.
When he applied to renew his medical-marijuana card in May, he checked the box on the application stating "requesting to cultivate," even though several dispensaries had opened up within seven or more miles from his rural home. A warning popped up in the online application, telling him that dispensaries were within 25 miles of his residence, and that his cultivation request would be denied.
Troutt challenged the denial, leading to a hearing that took place on July 23. Troutt made several arguments: The 25 miles should include round-trip mileage, not one-way; the medical-marijuana act merely requires patients living 25 miles or more from a dispensary to designate who's growing their pot, but doesn't restrict them from growing it entirely; that the dispensaries near his home didn't sell the organic, non-moldy marijuana he needed.
Judge Tammy Eigenheer's nine-page ruling doesn't spend much time dissecting Troutt's arguments, saying a couple of times that the state's interpretation of the law is "entitled to deference." She agreed with the DHS argument that if the law couldn't be interpreted as placing a 25-mile restriction on cultivation around dispensaries, the statute's phrase about cultivating if a dispensary "is not operating" within 25 miles of the patient's home would have no meaning.
"The Department's position provides a fair and sensible result and properly reflects the intent of the electorate," the judge wrote, affirming that the DHS has the right to reject Troutt's ability to grow.
In an interview this morning, Troutt fumes that the state's position most certainly does not reflect the "intent of the electorate." He says the intent of the electorate was to reduce "the damage of prohibition" and make marijuana widely available for medicinal use. But he maintains the law doesn't say patients can't grow pot within 25 miles of a dispensary.
He goes off on a critical tirade for a few minutes about the DHS ("racketeering," he says), the Marijuana Policy Project, (he calls the group that put Proposition 203 on the ballot, "Marijuana Policing for Profit,") and the current dispensary situation that includes "bags of cash" being transported due to a lack of access to legal banking.
The price of dispensary marijuana is outrageous, Troutt complains, arguing that it would be cheap enough if more growers got into the act. He plans to appeal Eigenheer's ruling to the Maricopa County Superior Court and see how far he gets.
"I ain't never gonna change," Troutt says.
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