REDDING, Calif. — The Redding Record Searchlight reported Monday that the Shasta County Superior Court has dismissed the felony marijuana case against Happy Valley Farm owner James Benno, 52, as well as his sons, Jacob Benno, 26, and Logan Benno, 23.
The Superior Court Judge hearing the case had already indicated on Feb. 2 that he may side with the defense after hearing a motion to have the case dismissed. He said that he would not make a final ruling until he had heard all arguments in the case.
The trio was arrested at their property that cultivates medical marijuana back in 2014. Law enforcement officials cut down more than 100 cannabis plants on the Benno's property and seized several registered guns. Also found on the farm in the Benno's kitchen was the volatile explosive solvent ethanol that is was not legal in California for cannabis cultivation at the time. The three men were charged with multiple felony charges that were decreased to misdemeanors after recreational marijuana was legalized by voters with Proposition 64 in 2016.
The trial officially began in February 2017 after multiple delays starting in August of 2014. The three men pleaded not guilty to all charges. The men were acquitted by the Shasta County jury on 15 of the 17 felony counts during the trial.
The jury was deadlocked on the other two felony counts. The jurors were each asked by the judge if they thought more deliberations could result in a verdict, to which each juror indicated that they would not.
The Case for Ethanol
Prosecutors decided to dismiss one of the two remaining charges (conspiracy to manufacture a controlled substance) and retry the men on one felony count of cultivating concentrated cannabis using an illegal volatile ethanol solvent.
Joseph Tully, James Benno’s attorney, had hoped that the DA's office would not throw away more taxpayer funds to retry the case, calling the prosecution a witch hunt and adding that the DA had charged the three men with 10 firearm counts.
Defense lawyer for Logan Benno, Ashley J. Bargenquast, filed a motion in Superior Court arguing that the prosecutors were wasting time charging her client for a Health and Safety code violation because the California Department of Public Health recently downgraded the definition of ethanol from volatile to nonvolatile, thereby making the ethanol found on the farm legal under current law.
The Shasta County Chief Deputy District Attorney, Ben Hanna, argued that making concentrated cannabis using ethanol is a dangerous fire hazard that could cause a fire or an explosion. The defense was about to present their case before the case was dismissed Monday by Shasta County Superior Court Judge Daniel Flynn.
Judge Flynn began presiding over the case in March of 2017 when Judge Stephen Baker stepped down from the case after disqualifying himself, citing a conflict of some kind.
Benno and his sons were relieved by the dismissal, having sacrificed years of their life and money for attorneys to fight the cases. Jacob Benno says that he was a college student prior to the arrest but was forced to drop out to work and help support the family, adding that he will never get those 4 years of his life back. He also thanked the trio's lawyers for believing in them and insisting that they didn't break the law.
James Benno said also that he wants his property back that was seized in the 2014 raid by law enforcement officials. He says he will fight to have approximately 70 pounds of cannabis, firearms, and his computer returned to his possession.