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Sheriff destroys wrong crop

Plants were cannabinus, not cannabis

News for Public Officials



In 2003, Marion Waltman was watching a television news report  showing Harrison County Mississippi Deputies raid what appeared to be a large crop of marijuana, whe suddenly he recognized the property as land that he leased to The Boarhog Hunting Club. Waltman was first puzzled, then outraged as he watched Sheriff George Payne and his crew destroy his $225,000 crop. The crop the deputies were cutting down wasn't marijuana but Kenaf (hibiscus cannabinus), that Waltman had planted as fodder for deer. Since the 1960's, there has been increasing Kenaf (hibiscus cannabinus)interest in Kenaf as an annually renewable source of fiber for the manufacture of newsprint and other pulp and paper products in the United States and other countries. Over the past five years, ranchers have begun using Kenaf as a forage crop.

The leaf shape of varieties of Kenaf varies but some varieties closely resemble marijuana (cannabis sativa).

Court records show an informant reported the crop as marijuana to state narcotics agents and U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration officers.

hibiscus cannabinus (Kenaf) plantsAlthough field tests on a sample plant did not identify it as marijuana. Payne ordered the plants seized and sent samples to the state Crime Lab.

Waltman sought $225,000 in damages in a lawsuit claiming the sheriff violated his rights by destroying more than 500 Kenaf plants. Cannabis Sativa plantsU.S. District Judge Louis Guirola Jr. dismissed the suit in May 2005.Guirola determined that Payne was acting within his official capacity and within the scope of discretionary authority. Qualified immunity shielded Payne from liability because his conduct was "objectively reasonable," the judge said.

Waltman has appealed Guirola’s ruling. The U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals has granted a request for oral arguments, set for the week of Nov. 6 in New Orleans.

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