Dec. 3—PORTLAND — A Lewiston man sentenced to six years in prison for his role in an illegal marijuana growing and selling operation in 2018 is seeking to have his conviction vacated on constitutional grounds.
A federal judge last year sentenced Richard “Stitch” Daniels, 57, after he pleaded guilty to the felony charge of conspiracy to manufacture, distribute and possess with intent to distribute 100 or more marijuana plants and 100 or more kilograms of marijuana.
On Oct. 25, 2021, Daniels filed a motion in U.S. District Court to have his conviction vacated, set aside or corrected and free him from governmental custody.
He is serving his sentence at a federal halfway house in Portland.
In his motion, Daniels argued that the U.S. Congress “proscribing marijuana as a controlled dangerous substance was unreasonable, without compelling reasons (and) without due process of law,” violating the Fourth and Fifth amendments to the U.S. Constitution.
He wrote that he was “convicted, deprived of his liberty, without compelling government reasons for a political crime.”
Daniels wrote that marijuana does not meet the criteria to be classified as a controlled substance.
“It is safe to use without medical supervision,” he wrote.
Daniels is representing himself.
Prosecutors responded that Daniels’ attorney was not ineffective in assisting him with his case because he failed to challenge the constitutionality of federal marijuana laws under the Controlled Substances Act.
In his April order, U.S. District Court Magistrate Judge John Nivison wrote in his order that Daniels: “claims that the criminalization of marijuana is unconstitutional and that his attorney provided ineffective assistance for failing to present that argument.”
Daniels claims that “because marijuana is safe to use without a medical prescription, his conviction is unconstitutional because there are no compelling reasons for Congress to proscribe marijuana use and distribution,” Nivison wrote.
Nivison recommended granting the prosecutors’ request that Daniels’ petition be dismissed after concluding that “there is no substantial showing of the denial of a constitutional right.”
Daniels responded to Nivison’s order, writing that the magistrate judge “violated his solemn oath to Article III” of the U.S. Constitution.
“This is not about some fantasy that marijuana is a fundamental right created by ineffective assistance of counsel,” Daniels wrote. Instead, he said his case is about “deprivation of liberty without due process of law.”
In May, U.S. District Court Judge George Z. Singal upheld Nivison’s recommended order denying Daniels’ petition to vacate his conviction, repeating that there was “no substantial showing” of the denial of Daniels’ constitutional rights.
In November, Daniels filed a petition to appear before the U.S. Supreme Court on the question of “whether being in federal custody is a substantial denial of Richard Daniels’ constitutional right of liberty, without ‘sufficient cause,’ without compelling reasons for the U.S. Congress to proscribe marijuana as a dangerous substance, to be a drug trafficking crime, therefore without due process of law in violation” of amendments four and five of the U.S. Constitution “and is unconstitutional.”
In addition to his six-year sentence, Daniels was sentenced to five years of supervised release.
During that time, he’ll be barred from having alcohol and illegal drugs for which he can be tested upon reasonable suspicion.
Prosecutors had agreed to drop six related charges from an October 2018 superseding grand jury indictment.
On Feb. 27, 2018, federal agents fanned out across Androscoggin County executing more than 20 search warrants on suspected illegal marijuana growing operations.
A grand jury handed up an indictment naming more than a dozen defendants, including businesses prosecutors said were used to launder drug proceeds.
Agents searched Daniels’ home and an adjacent garage where they seized roughly 119 kilograms of marijuana, 27 sheets of marijuana concentrate, and equipment used to manufacture marijuana concentrate, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office, which prosecuted the case.
From 2015 to Feb. 27, 2018, Daniels was a member of a broad-based organization that cultivated marijuana at numerous locations in Androscoggin County under the guise of Maine’s Medical Marijuana program and distributed bulk marijuana to people who were not participants in that program, including out-of-state customers, prosecutors said.
Daniels had been an “active participant” in the conspiracy’s daily operations and personally supplied bulk quantities of marijuana to the conspiracy’s customers, including those from outside of Maine, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
Besides selling bulk marijuana, Daniels processed the plants into concentrate form known as “dabs,” which he also sold illegally, prosecutors said.
In court papers, Daniels’ attorney, Luke Rioux, wrote that “we are on the wrong side of history here,” referring to changing state laws legalizing medical and recreational marijuana.