HOMER — A Homer man who grew an estimated $1.5 million worth of cannabis at an indoor grow operation off East End Road pleaded guilty Tuesday to an amended charge of attempted fourth-degree misconduct involving a controlled substance for possessing more than 25 cannabis plants.
Homer District Court Judge Margaret Murphy sentenced Joseph Gabryszak, 32, to 360 days in jail with 300 days suspended and ordered him to pay a $5,000 fine with $5,000 suspended.
“What happened here is he kind of jumped the gun on the new marijuana regulations in Alaska,” said Gabryszak’s lawyer, Evan Barrickman.
Two other charges of fourth-degree misconduct involving a controlled substance were dismissed. Those counts alleged Gabryszak grew pot with the intent to manufacture and he kept a building with criminal amounts of cannabis.
Gabryszak pleaded guilty in an agreement with the state.
Assistant district attorney Nick Torres told Murphy he accepted the plea agreement. Torres, Gabryszak and Gabryszak’s lawyer, Barrickman, all attended telephonically. Gabryszak made no statement.
Ballot Measure 2, passed by Alaska voters by a 52 percent margin in 2014, legalized personal, medical and commercial use of cannabis. Last month, the Alaska Marijuana and Alcohol Control Board began accepting applications for commercial cannabis, including the cultivation, manufacturing, testing and sale of cannabis. No licenses have been issued yet.
In charging documents, Homer Police said Gabryszak ran a marijuana grow operation on Collie Street off of East End Road. Police and members of the State Drug Enforcement Unit, Soldotna, on Feb. 12 seized about 1,000 plants, or 6,000 ounces, worth $1.5 million from a 4,500-square-foot building. If that had been a legal, licensed grow operation, the state would have collected a $50 per ounce excise tax, or $300,000, and the city would have collected $67,000 in sales taxes.
Police said Gabryszak also lived in an apartment in the building. Gabryszak told police he’d worked road construction for several years to finance his cannabis grow operation. Police also seized grow lights and ballasts worth about $25,000. Homer Police Chief Mark Robl said with other growing equipment, Gabryszak invested about $50,000 in his operation.
Although Ballot Measure 2 made some cannabis use legal, outside of personal, medical and licensed commercial use, some criminal uses of cannabis remain on the books.
In his plea agreement, Gabryszak forfeited all items seized related to the grow except for mobile phones, a camera, a laptop computer, computer gaming equipment and a television.
In sentencing remarks, Murphy noted that Ballot Measure 2 gave municipalities a local option to decide if they wanted to allow commercial cannabis. Based on the size and sophistication of Gabryszak’s premature grow operation, it was more than jumping the gun, she said.
“You made that choice without waiting to see what the community wanted,” she said. “You don’t have the right to start your business without waiting to see if the community has accepted your business.”
At the time of the bust on Feb. 12, the Homer City Council had on Feb. 8 introduced an ordinance banning commercial cannabis in Homer. It also introduced an ordinance regulating commercial cannabis activities. The ban ultimately failed and the zoning ordinance passed, so there is no current local option in Homer prohibiting commercial cannabis.