Man lost job over false marijuana growing allegation; never charged

A DeKalb County man will not face any criminal charges after being publicly accused by DeKalb County police of operating a marijuana grow house. The allegations were made after his home was destroyed in a fire on April 2. Firefighters discovered unspecified plants, grow lights and other equipment in his basement and leapt to the conclusion that he was growing marijuana for distribution.

The allegations were made public apparently because DeKalb County police were unable to reach the man after the house fire, which would be understandable given that he had to find new accommodations in the chaotic hours after the fire. However, police assumed that the homeowner had fled. They announced having found a “large marijuana grow lab” and asked for the public’s help in finding him.

That publicity apparently lost an innocent man his job. He had been working as a caterer, and the plants, grow lights and other equipment were actually an experimental hydroponic tomatoes and “micro green” garden.

“I was just running an experiment on how to do it,” he told the Atlanta Journal Constitution yesterday. “It was sort of like research and development.”

Cook and gardener not involved in marijuana distribution, but no police apology from police

Although the former catering worker’s explanation of the plants and equipment in his basement is completely reasonable, the DeKalb police and prosecutors are not saying the man has been exonerated. Under our system of justice, however, an innocent explanation must be accepted unless there is a criminal case the government can prove.

There is apparently no proof of illegality in this case. Despite police suspicion about the true purpose of the underground garden, they could find no evidence that marijuana was being grown at the man’s house.

“Because everything inside was destroyed by fire,” said a DeKalb police spokesperson, “they couldn’t proceed with an investigation.”

The spokesperson said that DeKalb narcotics investigators do not anticipate filing any charges in the case. A spokesperson for the DeKalb District Attorney’s Office confirmed that there is currently no open case involving the man.

Drug charges — and even false allegations — can have an extremely harmful effect on a person’s reputation. Mere suspicion should not be enough to tarnish an innocent person’s reputation, but in the War on Drugs, it often is.

Source: Atlanta Journal Constitution, “Cops: Man cleared of marijuana accusations after evidence burns,” Ty Tagami, May 9, 2011