York County, Nebraska – An elderly couple was arrested this week after a traffic stop turned into a drug bust that led to Nebraska Sheriff’s Deputies posing proudly with 60 pounds of cannabis that the couple was transporting across the country to gift to family members as Christmas presents.
Patrick Jiron, 80, and his wife Barbara, 70, were travelling from their home in Clearlake Oaks, California, to visit family in Massachusetts and Vermont in their Toyota Tacoma, when they were stopped in Nebraska for driving over the center line and failing to signal, according to a report from the York News-Times.
The deputies who stopped the vehicle claimed that they could “immediately smell the strong odor of raw marijuana,” and the county’s canine unit “alerted to the presence of a controlled substance and a probable cause search was conducted of the vehicle.”
It is not clear whether the police dog was already on the scene at the time of the traffic stop, or whether the officer called for backup. Lt. Paul Vrbka told the News-Times that after a search was conducted, 60 pounds of cannabis was found in boxes inside the pickup topper of the truck. He claimed that the street value is around $336,000.
“They said the marijuana was for Christmas presents,” Vrbka said.
Those Christmas gifts were seized, and Mr. and Mrs. Jiron were arrested on felony charges of possession of marijuana with the intent to deliver. A follow-up report noted that while Patrick Jiron was jailed and has since been released after he posted 10 percent of his $100,000 bond, Barbara Jiron was cited, but was not jailed “due to some medical issues.”
Residents in the couple’s home state of California voted to legalize cannabis for recreational use in November 2016. Recreational cannabis sales will become legal in California on Jan. 1, and because of the change in the state’s drug laws, nearly 500,000 people who have been labeled as felons for cannabis-related charges, could have their convictions cleared.
Cannabis is also legal in Massachusetts, and it has been decriminalized in Vermont—the two locations where Mr. and Mrs. Jiron said they were delivering 60 pounds of the plant as Christmas gifts. However, cannabis is still illegal in Nebraska, where the couple was stopped by police. In Nebraska, possession of more than 1 pound of cannabis is considered a Class IV felony, which is punishable by a maximum of 5 years in prison and $10,000 in fines.
Lt. Vrbka told the News-Times that the couple told the deputies who arrested them that “they didn’t know it was illegal to transport marijuana in Nebraska.”
As The Free Thought Project has reported, police officers in the United States have a history of targeting the elderly for possession of cannabis, even when they obtain it legally. In one case, a man was traveling from California to Texas to visit his granddaughter, who was suffering from a terminal illness. His car was searched during a traffic stop because he admitted that he had a marijuana pipe—however, he obtained it legally with a prescription in California.
In another case, four months after police received a call from a woman who claimed that her identity was stolen, they decided to investigate, and they happened upon a 77-year-old man’s cannabis plants by mistake. Even though he was not harming or threatening anyone with his peaceful possession of the plants, he was sentenced to 10 years in prison.
In the case of Patrick and Barbara Jiron, their Christmas has been ruined, the presents they planned to give to loved ones have been stolen and used for a photo-op, and it remains to be seen how the War on Drugs will impact the rest of their lives.