A photograph included in a court filing shows Deb Palm-Egle and her son, Josh Egle, to the right of the photograph, with Gov. Mark Gordon at the March, 2019 signing of a bill legalizing hemp production. In November of the same year, Wyoming Division of Criminal Investigation agents raided the mother-son team's farm in Albin. The Egles are being charged with heavy felonies for conspiracy to grow and sell marijuana, which their lawyer says was a hemp crop. (Screenshot from court filing)

UPDATE: Laramie County prosecutor David Singleton and attorneys for the defendants questioned Wyoming Division of Criminal Investigations Special Agent John Briggs on Thursday during the start of the preliminary hearing. Laramie County Circuit Court Judge Antoinette Williams is presiding over the hearing, which was extended to an as-yet-unannounced date. — Ed.

Wyoming Division of Criminal Investigation agents in November raided an Albin hemp farm, operated by two people instrumental in legalizing the crop in Wyoming, court filings show. 

DCI and Laramie County prosecutors are accusing the mother-and-son farmers of growing marijuana with the intent to distribute because the 700-plus pounds of dried plant material law enforcement seized tested slightly above the legal THC-concentration limit of 0.3%, according to a DCI affidavit. Marijuana and hemp are derived from the same plant. Tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, is the chemical in marijuana that gets users high. Its low presence in hemp keeps the crop from being categorized a drug.

The farmers, Deb Palm-Egle and her son, Josh Egle, could face years, even decades, in prison if convicted.

The Egles intended to grow hemp, and their crop tested below the legal limit before the raid, according to documents filed by their attorney, trial lawyer Tom Jubin of Cheyenne. 

In the July 6 court filing, Jubin argues there is a pile of evidence that the farmers intended to grow hemp, beginning with the fact that they testified in front of legislative committees in favor of legalizing this agricultural practice  in Wyoming. 

The case comes up for a preliminary hearing tomorrow in Laramie County Circuit Court. Jubin declined to comment, but his filing indicates he will ask the judge to dismiss the case because his clients did not intend to grow marijuana, which he argues should invalidate all the charges.

The Legislature legalized industrial hemp farming in 2017, though it became law without then-governor Matt Mead’s signature — a sign of his disapproval. 

Jubin’s list of expected witnesses includes high-ranking politicians. Wyoming State Treasurer Curt Meier, a former state senator, along with House Majority Floor Leader Eric Barlow and House Judiciary Committee Chairman Dan Kirkbride — all proponents of hemp farming who interacted with the charged farmers during legislative hearings on the statutes — are listed as potential witnesses. All three submitted testimony that they believe the Egles intended to grow hemp, not marijuana.

Political proponents of hemp have touted it as a way to diversify Wyoming’s fossil-fuel dependent economy and provide a new crop for the state’s agriculturists.  

A photograph of the Egles standing next to Gov. Mark Gordon at the March 6, 2019 signing of a follow-up bill legalizing hemp production and processing is also included in the filing.

House Judiciary Committee Chairman Dan Kirkbride (R-Chugwater)

Jubin is also arguing that while DCI’s tests found the plants contained above the legal limit for THC, their concentration of the psychoactive ingredient was far too low to be effective as an illegal intoxicant. 

DCI agents put the plants through a series of 10 tests, according to the charging documents. In nine of those, the concentration tested higher than 0.3%, according to the charging documents. The highest test level came back at 0.6% THC. 

But for someone looking to get high, smoking these plants would be a disappointment. A review of recreational marijuana dispensary websites in Fort Collins, Colorado shows most “flowers,” the smokable buds of the plants, contain 15% THC or more. 

“A crop of hemp containing in the neighborhood of .3 percent — or even over one percent, would be entirely unmarketable as marijuana,” Jubin argued in his July 6th filing. Selling such a product “on the illegal black market” could even put the seller at risk of retaliation, Jubin argued. 

“Selling such a plant representing it to be marijuana could endanger the seller as it has no significant psychoactive properties, and any purchaser would consider himself duped or cheated,” he wrote. Nor could the farmers sell the crop in the legal marijuana market, because it did not come from a licensed grow operation, Jubin argued. 

Prosecutors, however, are leveling serious charges against the farmers. These include conspiracy to manufacture, deliver or possess marijuana; possession with intent to deliver marijuana; possession of marijuana; and planting or cultivating marijuana. All but the last are felonies. The conspiracy and possession-with-intent-to-deliver charges carry prison sentences of zero to 10 years. Possession of a felony weight of marijuana — over three ounces — carries a prison sentence of zero to five years. 

Two more people, Brock and Shannon Dyke, who were present at the farm the day of the raid, face identical charges. Brock Dyke was a contractor doing work for the Egles, according to Jubin’s filing. 

Laramie County District Attorney Leigh Ann Manlove did not respond to a request for comment by publication time. 

Tipster led to ‘bust’ 

The trail to DCI’s raid on the farm in sleepy Albin, east of Cheyenne near the Nebraska border, began on Sept. 4, according to the charging documents. That day, a “reliable source of information” contacted DCI Special Agent J. Briggs and said he was concerned Palm-Egle was growing marijuana. The source said he or she “has known PALM-EGLE for some time,” Briggs wrote in his affidavit. The reliable source said they had seen a new addition on Palm-Egle’s farm and “believed that the new addition was what was described as a ‘greenhouse,’” Briggs wrote. The source “also claimed that he/she, noticed ‘blue lights coming from the greenhouse.’” 

The source also said that Palm-Egle, who is in her 60s, talked in conversation about marijuana easing the symptoms of her multiple sclerosis. 

More than a month after the tip, on Oct. 28, DCI’s Briggs “attempted to conduct physical surveillance on the residence,” he wrote. He saw car tracks but no people. 

On Nov. 1, Briggs returned to the farm with another agent and went looking for someone to talk to. They did not find anyone, even after knocking on doors and entering “open barns” to look “around corners in areas that someone could possibly be, with the inability to hear Agents announcing themselves,” Briggs wrote. 

He did not find anyone to talk to, but spotted “what appeared to be raw plant form marihuana” hanging in a barn with no door to hide it. Briggs then did some research, according to his affidavit. An official at the Wyoming Department of Agriculture told him that no hemp licenses had been granted yet. Briggs also found that Palm-Egle was once the registered agent for a Denver-based marijuana company, but the company no longer had a grow license. 

A photograph of a field of hemp in Oregon. Wyoming lawmakers passed legislation in 2017 and 2019 to legalize hemp cultivating and production here. (Oregon Department of Agriculture)

The morning of Nov. 4, agents executed a search warrant and raided the farm, where they found the Dykes, along with their two children. Jubin describes Brock Dyke as a building contractor who worked for the Egles. 

“My clients are honest small business owners,” Michael Bennett, a Laramie-based attorney representing the Dykes, said. Bennett declined to comment further on the case. 

When the agents entered the barn, they found the plants had been taken down and the buds had been placed in “large brown paper bags.” 

According to Briggs, Brock Dykes in an interview told the agent the plants were “clones” of marijuana plants Josh Egle had brought from a marijuana grow in Colorado. 

According to Jubin’s filing, Dykes told DCI Agent Jason Moon during the raid that the crop was hemp. He provided the agent text messages from the farmers with the results of two previous tests the farmers had a commercial lab conduct on the crop. Both those tests, as well as a third one that is included as evidence in Jubin’s filing, came back below 0.3% THC. Moon shared those results with other investigating law enforcement officers, Jubin said. 

Jubin will argue that the fact that the farmers were testing their crop at all suggests they were growing hemp, not pot, he wrote in his filing. This idea is consistent with what “one of the DCI agents on scene at the time of the search has said,” Jubin wrote. 

“It is very surprising that this matter has come this far and gotten to this point,” Jubin wrote. 

The agents took the plants in the barn, “as well as a small amount of high grade marihuana from inside the residence,” that the Dykes denied ownership of. The agents seized 327,600 grams of plants, according to the affidavit. That’s roughly 722 pounds. 

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Andrew Graham

Andrew Graham is reporting for WyoFile from Laramie. He covers state government, energy and the economy. Reach him at 443-848-8756 or at andrew@wyofile.com, follow him @AndrewGraham88

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15 Comments

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  1. Wyoming needs to legalize, at the very least, medical marijuana use. (Actually, the federal government needs to do so, but that’s a larger discussion, to be saved for another day.) It would keep more consumer dollars in Wyoming instead of giving them to Colorado, Utah, and other nearby states. It would give physicians and patients another much needed, legal tool for treating chronic pain, MS, neuropathy, and a host of other lifelong medical conditions. It would give our ranchers and farmers another sustainable income source. It would save law-enforcement dollars and man hours that could be directed to more serious issues. I’m not a young, liberal, socialist leaning, college student. I’m a 72 yo, retired conservative, so my views are tempered with age and life experience. If enough states take steps toward doing something logical about marijuana, eventually the federal government will be forced to so as well. I’ve always said that Wyoming will be the last state to legalize marijuana due to our conservative lawmakers (whom I’ve helped vote into office, so not complaining). Let’s prove me wrong, okay? Let’s do the smart thing.

    1. Danna Mann’s comment is totally reasonable and convincing. I too am a retired conservative, aged 72, and personally have never experimented with marijuana or any other illegal drugs, and I never will do so. As a young Marine in Vietnam in 66-67, I learned that there are plenty of other things to die from.

      So why try to find a crime where there is none. Doesn’t your prosecutor (or is it “persecutor”) have enough real crime to work on? If not, then come give us a hand here in Minneapolis.

      Hopefully, the court will dismiss these inane and capricious charges, and let these enterprising farmers get back to work.
      Semper Fi
      USMC

  2. What’s with your governor? Is he as weak as he appeared when Covid-19 first appeared in Wyoming? I was just waiting for the obvious problems when tourists arrived in Jackson. Here in Santa Fe we’re next door to a huge new Hampton Inn that just opened. Oh boy! Watch out, neighbors!

  3. This appears to be a serious overreach of law enforcement by DCI. For all intents and purposes they appear to be a sincere and important arm of state law enforcement. It’s cases like this that will shine them in a very poor light. Mr Forest Williams, if still interim director had to okay this so this could be a top down example of poor judgement. I hope this matter can be reconsidered and the parties involved offer a sincere apology and product returned.
    In light of current circumstances to attack a legitimate farmer trying to make a living by growing a valuable and sustainable crop is poor judgement. Especially on a “technicality” beyond the farmer’s control.

  4. This is absolutely ridiculous on the part of the DCI and very concerning. Wyoming should legalize marijuana and improve our economy, let alone waste money on something as silly as these charges! And this opinion is from a nearly 80 year old Wyoming native

  5. DCI Special Agent J. Briggs and cohort = send in the clowns. Expensive clowns. They got nothing.

  6. Sounds like if Wyoming is going to allow hemp farming they need to be resting the plants at different times. Sometimes mother nature does some pretty strange crap to plants. So if these plant tested at under 3% earlier it wasnt the farmers fault that mother Nature got into the act. I agree these farmers couldnt sold it for hemp cause the thc was to high and couldnt sell it for smoking pot as there wasnt enough thc the farmers lost out not the state. But who knows maybe they planted it on known coal field that isnt doing anything for the state. The Wyoming Courts and budget needs to drop this all together and set up a testing team to make certain the state quits wasting money

  7. Green Lives Matter.
    Defund DCI
    – whatever.

    If this is what Wyoming’s top law enforcement leaders think is expected of them , acting like Prohibition Era government goons busting a hemp farm 40 miles from the legal and booming marijuana mecca of Colorado , they would be wrong. I daresay the preponderance of Wyoming residents will brand this as an egregious overstep by zealous cops. An outrage.

    No wonder the outside world thinks rightly that Wyoming is medievally regressive to a fault.

    1. This is indeed one of the biggest absurdities of this case. Why would these people be growing hemp. (With some but not all of their plants just barely scraping above the threshold to be considered “marijuana”) if their actual intention was to produce, sell and market these plants as illegal drugs? There is no real market for them to enter for this product, especially because there is a thriving market for the “good stuff” nearby. Besides, there is ZERO financial gain to be had for deciding to grow and sell garbage weed versus “good” weed. It’s the same plant, and requires the same resources to cultivate and grow, so you may as well just grow stuff that people would actually buy, if of course that was even your intention to begin with.

      Also, how are they even getting these “drugs” to market? Does the elderly lady with multiple sclerosis *really* have a massive underground network of distributors and street dealers lined up to transport and sell 700 pounds of garbage weed in brown paper bags? Yeah… sure…okay….
      I mean, DCI staked out the property for a significant amount of time and outright complained about there not being any people around. For several days they couldn’t find another human being to even ask questions. No traffic going in and out of the farm? Nobody around? That’s kind of the opposite of what you usually find at an outfit that is allegedly distributing large amounts of illegal ‘drugs’, especially if they were portioning out their 722 pound crop into paper bags to be sold.

  8. We need new economic prospects. At least they were attempting to make living. Sounds like you would have to smoke the whole field to get high. All anyone would do is go to one of our neighboring states for medicinal marijuana. Better watch out when you begin an out of the box thinking business. Some old busy body will turn you into the authorities…

  9. The old undercover Harley-riding hippie doing first class drug work for the DCI would be rolling over in his grave. If he was in one.

    Are these “high grade” pot smokers truly “honest small business owners”? Every mob attorney says the same thing about their clients but I’ll buy it for now, It sure sounds like another government knee to the proverbial neck of someone just trying to scrape by on this planet while flying around a ball of fire in the middle of nowhere.

    Put me with the eye-rolling crowd unless something new pots up.

  10. My understanding of this situation is that the farmer(s) previously worked for a hemp producer in Colorado. While there doing that work, they started to stockpile seeds from successful hemp crops down in Colorado, waiting for Wyoming to finally allow hemp production. After that happened, they eventually brought these stockpiled seeds up to their farm in Wyoming and apparently did some planting. These seeds were all ‘clones’ from a successful hemp crop, presumably in order to mitigate the risks of this plant crossing the 0.3% THC threshold and legally becoming “marijuana”, which is a controlled substance.

    No cannabis plant is “guaranteed” to remain under 0.3% THC. It isn’t perfectly clear what all can cause an individual plant to produce more THC than others, but some plants, even if they are all effectively “clones” can still yield a variable amount of THC, with some crossing the 0.3% threshold, and others remaining under.

    States that allow the growing of hemp all require federally-approved plans for regulation of hemp production. All of these plans require that plants be sampled and tested before a harvest. A sample that tests higher than 0.3% THC means the whole lot associated with that sample must be destroyed. Anything that tests below makes it “hemp” and can thus be harvested and “enter the stream of commerce”. The Wyoming Dept. of Ag. Plan allows producers to pay for a “retest” of they think the initial test was in error.

    These types of ‘violations’, according to the Wyoming department of Ag. plan don’t generally rise to the level of criminality. But to be clear, it does not seem like these producers were licensed to grow hemp as is required in Wyoming. Nonetheless, not being licensed also does not necessarily constitute a crime, UNLESS there is specific evidence that the ‘violation’ goes beyond ‘negligence’ such as they were growing cannabis with higher-than-allowed THC content for the express purpose of selling ‘drugs’. Personally, I think proving this ‘intent’ isn’t going to be too easy.

    What I find particularly interesting (and concerning) here is that Wyoming DCI can simply just insert themselves into Wyoming hemp production and quickly escalate ‘violations’ – that really are supposed to be handled in a civil, regulatory manner by the Wyoming Department of Ag., – into high-stakes criminal charges. According to Wyoming’s approved regulatory plan, these matters are really supposed to be handled by the Wyoming Department of Ag., and THEN, if actually warranted, be referred to law enforcement/prosecutors to handle if the issues potentially rise to criminal violations. This ‘issue’ or complaint should have been handled by the Wyoming Department of Agriculture, NOT DCI.
    These people should not be facing criminal charges from what is so-far known.

    I think one of three things is probably happening here:
    1.) Disgruntled neighbor decides to use law enforcement as a means to target people with whom they have grievances.

    2.) Wyoming law enforcement deciding that they are still politically against cannabis in all forms (Hello WASCOP!) and inappropriately using their authority to hammer would-be hemp farmers to further their political agenda to keep cannabis criminalized.

    3.) These people are actually, intentionally, attempting to illegally produce and traffic the crappiest weed on the planet within a stones-throw distance to Colorado, which is selling the good stuff perfectly legally.

    I think possibly the law needs a little bit of refinement to ensure that a disgruntled neighbor can’t just call the cops on your legitimate farming outfit and immediately land you with massive, extremely serious criminal charges if one of your hemp plants tests a little high when DCI comes and knocks down your door. I think ensuring that every ‘complaint’ or ‘violation’ should be handled by Wyoming department of Ag. first before law enforcement is even allowed to touch it would be a good idea. We don’t need random people weaponizing law enforcement against their neighbors, or rogue agencies with a political agenda targeting legitimate farmers.

  11. So, who is the responsible party here? Did the seller of the seed guarantee the hemp to be below .3%? Did the THC content rise due to “best practices” in farming?

    This is why no one outside (and inside) Wyoming takes us serious.

  12. Still locking up people for growing marijuana? In the 21st Century! Get over it! There are REAL crimes being committed every day, undoubtedly some of them being committed by government officials.