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August 15, 2006 - San Antonio Current (TX)

Thank You For Not Snitching

By Keli Dailey

Return to Drug War News: Don't Miss Archive

When you're truly in a narcotic task force's crosshairs, they might give you a signal in the form of a simple rhyme: "Give us three, and we'll set you free." This couplet, most effective when recited by an agent perched on the lip of his chair, muscles tensed and ready, should be interpreted to mean that if you incriminate a handful of marbles law enforcement would rather play with, they'll drop those pending drug charges. And in an era of federal mandatory minimums that work like dispassionate Pez Dispensers handing out tart, 10- year prison bids for such crimes as, say, thinking about dealing America's most commonly used illicit drug, marijuana (a decade for planning, not selling), getting a suspect to "flip" on someone else can be a process smoother than photosynthesis.

So what's with Jason Weaver -- father, husband, and until recently, restaurateur and hydroponics supplier praised in the local daily and the Current for taking soil-free gardening beyond the realm of toker technology? Couldn't he save himself, and tell on you?

The longboarder who affixed his surf moniker to his year-old coffee bar and deli would not own Big Kahuna's on Ashby and North Flores after today. The equipment from Jason "Big Kahuna" Weaver's other business, Casa Verde Garden Supply and Hydroponics, also housed in the 4,000-square-foot-building on Ashby, would be dismantled and shipped to Del Rio, and on to indoor farmers in Guatemala and Honduras. It was Thursday, August 10, less than two months before Weaver, 31, would report to a federal prison (actually, a tent compound in Beaumont, Texas, surrounded by barbed wire) and begin a three-year sentence for conspiracy to grow and sell marijuana.

Weaver spent most of the morning patching up the building painted in bright green sativas and dark-green indicas, spotted with Tiki gods drawn in a style that's part Marvin the Martian, part Polynesian pop. Inside, soul-surfer beach and fishing trip ephemera, and a 2006 Richard De La O painting of a white-winged figure slaying a green demon (the artist said it was Weaver vs. the DEA).

In the kitchen, Weaver made pepperoni pizza subs and assured the man in the white plastic lei, Jesse Gonzales, that he would make a phone call and get him another job prepping and cooking. And Weaver sat across from the Current, using Murphy's Oil Soap to scrub foaming caulk from his fingers, sharing what was on his mind on this last day. He came off sounding a little bit like the doomed and insightful old guy in Tuesdays with Morrie.

"I go away on September 29," he said. "I'm not looking forward to it, but I'm sure I'm going to learn from it.

"My saying is, 'Enjoy life, because you don't know what's coming from one day to the next.' When I wake up in the morning I thank my god, because everyone's god is different." Weaver riffed on about life lessons, about his new ankle tattoo, something he can carry into prison to remind him of his 9-month-old daughter (a sea turtle) and 6-year-old son (a squid). And then he added, with some bitterness: "And I would say that you can't control people."

That last bit of wisdom was rooted in his experience with the childhood friend who helped manage the garden-supply shop Weaver and his wife, Tracee Wilkerson, started online in 1999, shepherded to a half-million dollar business by 2002, relocated in 2003 to a Fredericksburg address, and into the Ashby building in 2004. Somewhere during the course of events, Weaver said, his friend flipped.

Weaver told the Current that said friend signed an affidavit incriminating him and, in exchange, received four years probation. This could not be confirmed. The U.S. Attorney's officials who handled Weaver's case are on vacation, but Weaver's attorneys assured the Current that all information related to flipping is confidential; that no representative of the legal process could divulge anything about whether or not the government offered a deal. If it's not in the plea agreement, a matter of public record, it's secret.

Let's be absolutely clear: The government had incriminating evidence against Weaver. He says he was an unapologetic pot-smoker (as are one in seven Americans, according to the marijuana-policy watchdogs at NORML). Now subject to drug screenings as a condition of his $100,000 bond, his green-blue eyes look into the middle distance as he fondly recalls kayaking in Port Aransas and lighting up a bowl with just a magnifying glass (because matches would get damp).

Weaver is represented by one of the nation's best drug-defense gurus, San Antonio lawyer Gerald Goldstein. Goldstein helped clear Hunter S. Thompson of multiple charges stemming from an illegal Colorado raid that turned up four sticks of dynamite and the usual Fear and Loathing suspects: cocaine, LSD, marijuana. Records show the investigation into Weaver and four associates (including his alleged informer friend) took place between January 2003 and the end of March 2005. Hundreds of marijuana plants were seized on Weaver's properties in West Rockport and his hometown Floresville (and on the property of associates locally). By April 2005, Weaver was arrested, and entered a plea agreement rather than face trial and be subject to a mandatory minimum 10 years for conspiring to grow up to 1,400 marijuana plants with the intent to distribute. He was sentenced in May 2006, and waived his right to appeal.

But it was during the course of the investigation, Weaver said, that he had the option of going free, when the regional narcotics task force would camp across the street at San Pedro Springs Park, then show up with a yearbook filled with photos of 300 dirtless gardeners who came from as far as Buda, San Marcos, and Corpus Christi to buy indoor-lighting systems, hydroponic systems, and organic nutrients - instruments used by NASA, 4-H clubs, orchid societies, schools, and marijuana growers.

"They told me from the very beginning, 'Give us three and we'll set you free, buddy,'" Weaver says. "I may be stupid or arrogant, but I said it's got to stop right here. This is going to ruin someone else's life." He says he burned customer records and played dumb.

Drug agents routinely rely on compromised informers to investigate homegrown marijuana cases for two reasons, according to National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws Executive Director, Allen St. Pierre.

(1) Pre-1980, the majority of marijuana came from outside the U.S. (read: South Asia, Central America, Canada, Mexico, and Jamaica).

"The domestic product, it was like someone lit up hair in a room," St. Pierre, 41, said, slandering our American weed forebears, at least the ones cultivating in Amherst, Massachusetts, in the '60s and '70s. And as the government worked to eradicate international shipments and stomped on outdoor year-round grow operations in sunny Florida, South Texas, Arizona, Hawaii, and the infamous green triangle in Humboldt, California, a new DIY generation of home brewers took root. Magazines like High Times and Sinsemilla Tips taught them how to harness a technology used in the age of the Roman Caesars and set up thousand-dollar grow systems in their closets. Today, drug-enforcement officials say indoor-growing operations produce a more potent drug than their two popular pot-producing rivals, Mexico and British Columbia.

(2) It wasn't long before law enforcement started flying down city grids with infrared scanning devices mounted on helicopters to see whose closet was thowing off heat, to detect the high-intensity lamps used for indoor-marijuana growth. In 2001, the Supreme Court said hoo-rodding around the skies looking for hot spots was an invasion of privacy, a warrantless search, and a Fourth-Amendment violation. Which sent our law-enforcement Icaruses back to the ground, sometimes digging through curbside garbage without a warrant, sometimes subpoenaing UPS shipping records from garden-supply stores, and, St. Pierre said, often asking someone to "give them three ... "

Goldstein said folks have been sentenced in connection with the Big Kahuna's case, and more probably will be. "It's a never-ending spiral," the lawyer said. "As a consequence, people will do almost anything to avoid that punishment."

So the question remains: Why, if he could, didn't the Big Kahuna hand over some bigger fish, spare his family (he and his wife are in counseling) and his business?

"My wife, she said 'You're protecting friends and customers over your family,'" Weaver said. "She's been with me 12 years, and she's always scolded me, and there's been many times where she told me so, and not to trust people. I give everyone that opportunity and I say shame on you, not shame on me.

"And this way," he adds, "I don't have to worry about someone plugging me or beating me with a bat or burning down my place."

Big Kahuna restaurant will be closed for renovation through August, then reopen under new ownership.

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