Pot Luck

Calling the cops was probably the last thing Jim Hammond should have done

Feb 23, 2000 at 4:00 am
Jim Hammond had just emptied his pockets for a robber who'd broken into his home and threatened him with a gun. Now he had a decision to make. He chose wrong. By dialing 911 last April, Hammond began a legal odyssey that now threatens his very health.

Overland police didn't catch the robber, but they did snag Hammond. In their report, officers said, Hammond couldn't describe the robber, in what direction he'd fled or even exactly when the crime occurred. "I told Hammond none of this was making sense and asked him to show me where the attempted robbery oc-curred," Officer Cliff Gibson wrote.

Hammond, who'd met police outside his house, says he didn't want to let them inside, "for obvious reasons." He denies inviting officers into his home -- "I can't lock my front door from outside, unfortunately. Otherwise I would have done that. They just waltzed in and plopped down and wanted me to tell the story."

Once inside, officers started asking questions that had nothing to do with the robber. Hammond's house reeked of marijuana -- not surprising, considering the 89 plants growing in his basement. "They asked if they could search the house," Hammond recalls. "I said no. But of course they just went ahead, started wandering around and checking stuff out, and they found the grow room downstairs. They were saying they were doing a protective sweep. I told them the guy is probably a couple blocks down the street -- he's not hiding in my grow room. It's padlocked from the outside."

The padlock soon came off and the handcuffs went on -- officers reported they could see the plants through a hole in the wall. Police also arrested Marjoria Jablonski, Hammond's then-girlfriend, whom they found hiding in a closet upstairs. She had outstanding warrants. According to the report, Jablonski had outstanding warrants from St. Charles County and the city of St. Louis. A record of the St. Charles warrant couldn't be located; St. Louis says she's wanted for failing to pay a public-transit fare. Hammond didn't want to talk to the cops, but Jablonski did. She told them Hammond was peddling marijuana for $240 an ounce.

So it was that Hammond, who'd never been in trouble with the law before, found himself charged with production of a controlled substance and possession of drug paraphernalia. In some respects, he got off easy: a month in jail, five years' probation, drug counseling and the chance to get the convictions stricken if he stays out of trouble. What isn't so easy is the requirement that he submit to five years of drug tests to ensure he stays clean.

Hammond has multiple sclerosis, a disorder of the central nervous system for which there is no cure. But science shows symptoms can be alleviated by smoking marijuana. In Hammond's case, he says, marijuana eases leg spasms. He uses a wheelchair and can't walk around his living room without bracing himself against furniture. "I'm not just making this stuff up," says Hammond, who has testified before the state Legislature on the benefits of marijuana for medical use. "Baclofen and other drugs don't work. I started to read up on other people with MS, and it works for them. I found that it worked for myself." But Hammond, who got out of jail earlier this month, could wind up behind bars again if he tests positive for marijuana.

Hammond won't say whether he ever sold pot. In addition to his growing equipment and the plants, which Hammond says were a month old and not ready for harvest, police seized $558 in cash from his home. Why so many plants and so much money? Hammond, who is on disability, says he was saving up for Y2K. As for the 89 plants, he says, he grew in bulk so that he wouldn't have to constantly climb up and down stairs to tend a handful. Once he had a decent-sized supply, he says, he stopped growing until his stash dwindled. Police, who included distribution charges on their arrest report, took a different view.

Overland Police Chief James Herron says Hammond's garden was far from garden-variety. "This is not like a guy who's got two plants of marijuana in the window sill for his personal use," Herron says. "In my 30 years (of law enforcement), I've seen some pretty good cultivation. This was magnificent. This was a very elaborate, very expensive hydroponic system. Officers were dumbfounded."

Of course, it doesn't make much difference whether Hammond got caught with six plants or 600. In Missouri, growing pot is illegal, period. Hammond says he has considered moving to Arizona, Washington, California or some other state where voters have legalized marijuana for medicinal purposes, but he wouldn't be able to see his 8-year-old daughter, who lives in Illinois.

Timothy Hogan, Hammond's attorney, declined comment. He also advised Hammond not to talk to the media for fear of attracting more attention from the law. Marilyn Ruemmler, the St. Louis County assistant prosecuting attorney who handled the case, doesn't recall Hammond's case but rejects any suggestion that a sentence could be structured so Hammond or any other MS patient could avoid urinalysis while on probation.

"Do you hear what you're saying?" Ruemmler says. "There's no way that we're going to agree to allow someone to use drugs while they're on probation. It's illegal. There's no way for us to make it legal. We don't make the laws; we just enforce them."

And so Hammond, who has already spent a month in jail, paid for an attorney and forked over $211.50 in court costs, faces prison if pot shows up in his urine or painful leg spasms for the next five years if he stays clean.

"It's crazy," he says.