Scottsville man pleads guilty to growing marijuana
April 02, 2007
Liesel Nowak, Daily Progress (VA)
A Scottsville man who police initially said grew enough marijuana to net $4.8 million on the street pleaded guilty Tuesday to manufacturing much less of the drug, insisting that it was for his ailing wife, who suffers from multiple sclerosis.
The actual street value of the seized marijuana, court records show, was $35,000.
In a plea agreement with prosecutors, Gary W. Peck avoided a minimum mandatory sentence of five years in prison for possessing guns and marijuana. The 52-year-old Peck still faces a maximum sentence of 30 years for manufacturing marijuana when he is sentenced in July.
Also present in Albemarle County Circuit Court was Peck’s wife, Cindy, a petite woman who shook visibly and required forearm crutches when she walked into the courtroom.
When a clerk read aloud the indictments against Peck during his arraignment, asking if Peck “unlawfully cultivated marijuana not for personal use,” Cindy Peck blurted out from the front row: “No. Medical. Medical marijuana.”
Defense lawyer J. Lloyd Snook III said Cindy Peck smoked the marijuana to combat the effects of her medication, which made her nauseated and unable to keep food down.
State and federal laws prohibit the use of marijuana, including for medicinal use.
Snook said Gary Peck also smoked the pot, but that prosecutors found no one “on the planet” who bought marijuana from him.
Commonwealth’s Attorney Jim Camblos said the Jefferson Area Drug Enforcement task force spotted the marijuana during a southern Albemarle flyover last summer. Peck runs a nursery, Blue Ridge Bamboo of Virginia, from his home, where he raises day lilies and forsythia.
On July 26, officers went to Peck’s house, and he admitted to growing marijuana for personal use, Camblos said.
The prosecutor conceded that it was “inappropriate” to charge Peck with the gun violation because the weapons in his Blenheim Road home were not in any way connected to drug sales.
“There were guns in the house,” Camblos said. “They weren’t .357s.”
Snook said the guns were heirlooms from Peck’s father.
“The guns and marijuana really had nothing to do with each other,” Snook said.
The marijuana was grown in a 10-foot-by-10-foot area surrounded by chicken wire. Police collected 4,200 plants, according to the prosecutor. Including the stems, stalks and leaves, the processed pot weighed 29 pounds, Camblos said.
“Any way you cut it, judge, it is a lot of marijuana. Forty-two hundred plants,” Camblos said.
Police initially estimated the street value at about $4.8 million based solely on the number of plants, not their size. One officer called the seizure the largest he’d seen in Albemarle County in 20 years.
Snook said he guessed that if police took only the smokable portion of the plants, the total weight would “probably be in the single digits of pounds.”
Liesel Nowak / firstname.lastname@example.org