Two Massachusetts ganja growers are facing federal felony charges after one of them “was featured in a magazine article noting that he regularly harvests 10 pounds of marijuana,” according to prosecutors.

Eric Vallee, 38, of Sutton, was arrested on Dec. 15, and Peter Molle, 35, of Holland, on Dec. 22. Both were charged with manufacturing marijuana and possession with intent to distribute. They face a mandatory minimum of two years in prison and fines of up to $250,000.

“Yes, they were featured in High Times,” a spokesperson for the U.S. Attorney’s office in Boston tells Freedom Leaf. “That was a part of how they were spotted.”

The two were first raided in February, shortly after Vallee’s garden was featured in the High Times article “New England’s Patriot Pot Growers.” The story explained that “Eric regularly harvests 10 pounds of medical cannabis from a space that has just 16 plants under four 1,000-watt HPS lights with a two-and-a-half-week vegetative time.” It also noted that he’d won several Cannabis Cups and worked with Molle.

The U.S. Attorney’s office said in a statement announcing the arrests that, in February, agents discovered three “commercial-style marijuana grow operations” run by the two defendants in Auburn (more than 100 plants), Holland (more than 100 plants) and Sutton (more than 30), along with “bank accounts that featured large amounts of cash deposits that were consistent with the proceeds of drug sales.”

HIGH TIMES’ DANNY DANKO on busted growers Eric Valle and Peter Molle: “They had nothing to hide. I hope this nightmare ends for them soon.”

Additional raids on Dec. 12 on Vallee’s and Molle’s houses also found “significant commercial-style grow operations,” according to the statement. The two will have a preliminary hearing in Springfield on Jan. 5.

Massachusetts, which legalized recreational marijuana in 2016, allows individuals to grow up to 12 plants for personal use, but has not yet issued commercial cultivation licenses. The state’s 2012 medical-marijuana law requires all cultivation to be done by registered dispensaries, with limited exceptions for patients and caregivers. MassCannabis Consulting, Vallee’s company, says on its website that it doesn’t sell anything and that its mission is to help people “with proper medical licenses” learn how to grow their own marijuana safely and effectively.

The case raises a common ethical question for cannabis journalists: How can you make sure that what you write doesn’t get anyone busted? And why would a grower let his or her name be published?

Photos of Eric Valle’s grow operation, taken for High Times by Brian Jahn.

“I asked if they wanted their full names printed, and they told me yes and they were legal under state law and promoting their consulting business,” High Times senior cultivation editor Danny Danko, who wrote the article in question (it appeared in the March 2017 issue), tells Freedom Leaf. “They had nothing to hide. I hope this nightmare ends for them soon.”

According to the U.S. Attorney’s office, Vallee’s “cultivation timetable” would enable him to harvest “hundreds of pounds of marijuana per year.” But Danko contends the authorities didn’t factor in that pot plants take two months or more to flower and at least three months to grow to fruition. In reality, he says, Vallee’s garden would have yielded around 40 pounds a year.

The High Times article by Danny Danko (“Growing Legal in New England”) appeared in the March 2017 issue.

“This wouldn’t be the first time that law enforcement that law enforcement overestimates or exaggerates the ‘street value’ or weight of what they consider contraband as an excuse for a bust or to make it seem more ominous to the average newspaper reader,” Danko adds. “It’s a shame that the agents’ inability to understand basic botany resulted in the arrest and prosecution of Eric and Peter.”

It’s also not the first time a grower who used his name in a High Times article ended up being raided. In 2004, the DEA targeted Northern California grower Eddy Lepp’s 20-acre, 32,000-plant garden shortly after a 2003 High Times article declared that it would be “the largest crop of legal medicinal marijuana ever grown anywhere in the world.”

Under federal law, Lepp was not allowed to claim a medical defense. Convicted in 2008, he was sentenced to 10 years in prison. He was released in December 2016, after serving eight years.

“When I was writing for High Times, I don’t think I ever used a person’s real name or location for a pot story,” says former editor-in-chief Peter Gorman. “Now, with marijuana legal in several states and people wanting to put their names all over it, I think those rules have changed. Still, I would go with caution, because the Feds might just decide to come down on growers even in states where it’s legal.”

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About Steve Wishnia

The New York-based journalist and musician is Freedom Leaf's senior editor. He's author of "The Cannabis Companion," "When the Drumming Stops" and "Exit 25 Utopia."

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