A Michigan man who faced 20 years in prison over his illegal marijuana farm will instead serve probation and pay a fine.

Outdoor cannabis growJohn A. Mast, a cancer patient, was busted last year when police found hundreds of marijuana plants growing on his 160 acre farm. Police said they uprooted 860 plants and discovered another 780 pounds of weed drying after harvest. Mast was charged with drug felonies and faced a two-decade sentence in state prison.

Instead, U.S. District Judge Paul Maloney gave Mast a sentence of three years probation, plus a fine of $7,500. The punishment, handed down in October, came after Mast’s family and friends pleaded for leniency, citing his poor health. Any prison term, they told Maloney, would amount to a death sentence.

Mast, whose farm is located in Western Michigan, became tangled in a large grow operation because he owed huge amounts of money for his cancer therapy, according to court documents. He was diagnosed with leukemia in 2012 and used pot to treat his symptoms, but he also grew plants for black market distribution by his brother, who lived in Kentucky.

Leniency was appropriate in the circumstances

The prosecutor, Assistant U.S. Attorney Mark Courtade, said he was satisfied with the sentence. Leniency was appropriate under the circumstances, he said.

“He’s had a lot of problems with leukemia, and putting him in prison could have killed him,” Courtade said. “He has no prior record, and with his medical condition and the fact he worked with the government in this investigation, I have no problem with the sentence.”

Police raided Mast’s farm outside Big Rapids, Mich., last October; it was one of the biggest cannabis busts in Western Michigan in recent years, Courtade said. Medical marijuana has been legal in Michigan since 2008, but local police and prosecutors have typically taken a dim view of patients and their providers.

Mast would unlikely survive prison

Among the pleas for probation was a letter from Mast’s son, Andrew, who noted that his father would likely die in prison.

“I do not believe he would be able to survive being incarcerated for any amount of time,” Andrew Mast wrote. “I sincerely believe my dad has regretted tremendously the decisions he made and would not disappoint if given a second chance.”

Mast’s operation started early in 2014, when his brother, Moses Mast, asked him to grow pot to sell on the black market in Kentucky. John Mast agreed in return for a cut of the profits, according to court records. Moses Mast brought three accomplices from Kentucky to plant the weed, returning to his brother’s farm several times over the summer of 2014.

Buds spotted by a deputy

The plants flowered in October 2014, and John Mast was halfway through harvest when a deputy from the Newaygo County Sheriff’s Department stumbled on the farm while investigating an unrelated incident. Walking past a barn, the deputy spotted marijuana bud hanging from the rafters to dry, according to court records.

handcuffs weedThe Central Michigan Enforcement Team then sent officers to search the barn, a trailer, another barn, and several outbuildings. In addition to processed weed, they found hundreds of cannabis plants growing among rows of corn. John Mast had hung tarps to keep water off the drying pot.

He told police he owned equipment at the farm “that was obviously used to harvest and hang marijuana,” court records say. After his arrest, friends and family told Maloney that John Mast was driven by overwhelming medical expenses and had no other way to pay his debts.

“The toll from the cancer and how to pay for it I believe led to his running afoul of the law at that time,” wrote Deerfield Township Trustee Gary Lambrix, a friend. “I feel that he understands that he did wrong and is really remorseful.”


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