Crime

Felony Marijuana Possession Charge Dropped Against Licensed Hemp Grower in Navarro County

Hunter Robinson, a  27-year-old Navy vet, has arthritis and PTSD. He found comfort in CBD, which launched him and his business partner into the hemp industry.
Hunter Robinson, a 27-year-old Navy vet, has arthritis and PTSD. He found comfort in CBD, which launched him and his business partner into the hemp industry. courtesy Sky & Hobbs Organics
For nearly a year, Hunter Robinson has been facing a felony charge for possession of marijuana, though he never really possessed any. Robinson and his business partner Skyler Purcell were licensed hemp farmers, growing and selling low-THC cannabis from an indoor farm they built in Navarro County. Their business was called Sky & Hobbs Organics. Hobbs is Robinson’s nickname.

But when officers with the Navarro County Sheriff’s Office raided Sky & Hobbs early last June, they didn’t believe the business was legal even when Robinson provided all of their state paper work showing they were a licensed business and that their product was legal.

The sheriff’s officers seized their product, said it tested above the legal limit for THC and arrested Robinson on the felony charge. As of this month, however, the case against Robinson has been dropped. Prosecutors moved to dismiss the charge on May 20. The sheriff's office didn't respond to a request for comment.

“There is evidence to show that [Robinson] was in possession of marijuana that contained more than .3% concentration of tetrahydrocannabinol, however, there is insufficient evidence at this time to prove that [Robinson] intended to possess, produce, or distribute, marijuana that contained more than .3% concentration of tetrahydrocannabinol,” the motion states.

That’s essentially what Robinson and Purcell have been saying throughout last year. Law enforcement in Navarro County wouldn’t listen until Sky & Hobbs began speaking up about their case to the media and advocates in the hemp industry.

“Although the financial impact/loss and months of ongoing legal processing has forced us to shut down Sky & Hobbs Organics, LLC, until further notice, we’re beyond thankful that the state of Texas and Navarro County decided to dismiss Hunter’s pending felony charges,” Purcell told the Observer in a written statement.

"Facing felony charges is like having a loaded gun to your head." – Hunter Robinson, Sky & Hobbs Organics

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"We have spent the last 365 days in dire legal jeopardy, and facing felony charges is like having a loaded gun to your head,” Robinson said. “There was absolutely no respite from the financial, reputational, and emotional impact on me and my partner. Worse, our families have been devastated. However, today we are beyond grateful that we are surrounded by a team of advocates who know the law and are passionate about helping industry stakeholders who are being unfairly targeted.”

They said without the media attention and help from cannabis advocates like Jesse Williams with the Texas Cannabis Collection and Jay Maguire with the Texas Hemp Federation, the case might not have been dropped.

The Texas Hemp Federation put them in contact with attorney David Sergi.

“There's no telling how terribly this would have turned out if we hadn't sought help from advocacy groups like the Texas Hemp Federation, which is dedicated to meeting all threats to the hemp industry,” Robinson said. “Part of [Texas Hemp Federation’s] mission this year is educating law enforcement, prosecutors, legislators about how and why all hemp and hemp derivatives are legal, and how to read the licenses, certificates of analysis and the regulations, rules and laws governing the industry.

“Their hope is to prevent a repeat of scenarios like ours, which should never have resulted in a SWAT action at our location, seizure of perfectly and provably legal hemp crop, an arguably illegal arrest and finally bogus felony charges. We are beyond grateful.”

The 2018 U.S. Farm Bill legalized the cultivation of low-THC cannabis. As long as the product didn’t exceed 0.3% delta-9 THC, the main psychoactive component in marijuana, it was legal hemp, according to the farm bill. Texas approved its own hemp laws that said virtually the same thing.

Passage of these laws sent Robinson and Purcell into the hemp industry.

The two say their seized product had already been tested and shown to be under the legal limit. The Navarro County Sheriff’s Office claims the product they tested was slightly above the limit. One sample had 0.378% delta-9 THC and another had 0.468%, according to the sheriff’s office.

Even if that’s true, Sky & Hobbs says, that’s not indicative of criminal activity. If anything, it’s indicative of a bad grow, and the law carves out exceptions for when that happens. It’s called a “safe harbor” provision, which allows for natural variations in THC levels.

If growers like Sky & Hobbs use “reasonable production practices” and their product has more than the legal THC limit but less than 1%, all they have to do is trash the crop. If the grow yields plants with more than 1% THC, the grower can be cited by the Texas Department of Agriculture for negligence. The grower can only face criminal charges if their crop tests at more than 1% THC and the state can prove they did it deliberately with a “culpable mental state greater than negligence.”

So, if Sky & Hobbs’ product really did test slightly over the legal limit, all they should have had to do is throw it out and start over. With the dismissal of the felony charge against Robinson, it seems the state would agree. Instead, the legal trouble ran the business into the ground and forced Robinson and Purcell to relocate and leave the industry entirely.

Now that the charge has been dropped, Robinson and Purcell say they’ll be spending time with their families and trying to recover from their run-in with the Navarro County Sheriff’s Office.

Until there are more protections in place for people in the industry, Robinson and Purcell say, they’re out of the business for good.

"The financial and emotional devastation that this has caused will not allow Sky & Hobbs to continue operating,” Robinson said. “Until there is protections for those investing into this industry, I personally am staying as far away from it as possible. This could have happened to any of us."
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Jacob Vaughn, a former Brookhaven College journalism student, has written for the Observer since 2018, first as clubs editor. More recently, he's been in the news section as a staff writer covering City Hall, the Dallas Police Department and whatever else editors throw his way.
Contact: Jacob Vaughn