Fillmore hemp business owner claims wrongful DUI arrest, UHP stands by decision
A Fillmore hemp business owner said he was wrongfully arrested by Utah Highway Patrol over the weekend for DUI and plans to fight the criminal charges.
Shane England, founder and president of Great Basin Hemp Farm Co-Op said he was driving home from the Utah Cannabis Career Fair in Salt Lake City Saturday night when he began to feel drowsy.
“I was starting to drift a little bit so I decided to pull off the freeway at the exit at Mills to take a breather,” he said. “I was about 30 minutes away from home and felt like I was good to continue driving.”
According to the probable cause statement, a Utah Highway Patrol trooper had received a call from dispatch about a reckless driving complaint matching the description of England’s vehicle.
“I followed the vehicle and did not observe any lane of travel violations. I did notice that the vehicle had no mud flaps. I initiated my emergency lights and stopped the vehicle,” the trooper wrote in arresting documents.
England said the trooper conducted a field sobriety test after seeing and smelling his hemp plant inside his truck that he showed at the fair and mistook it for marijuana.
“He asked, ‘Is that marijuana?’ I said, ‘No, no, no. That’s a hemp plant. It’s ok. I’m coming back from the Utah Cannabis Career Fair.’ He said, ‘Oh, cannabis. You’ve got marijuana. I’ve got reports of somebody swerving on the road. You’re obviously under the influence. Get out of the car right now,'” he recalled.
He went on to say, “The trooper told me I had failed the test because my eyes were fluttering and I was shaking. That would have been the adrenaline and the cold. But he still took me to the station at that point back in Nephi and booked me on DUI.”
Sgt. Nick Street with Utah Highway Patrol explained that troopers don’t focus on one particular aspect when it comes to DUI arrests.
“We have to look at the situation in totality. There are three phases to a DUI investigation. There’s that ‘vehicle in motion phase,’ which are the details a credible witness gave us to how this individual was driving before our trooper encountered them. There’s the ‘person-to-person’ phase and then there’s the field sobriety test,” he said.
He added, “The trooper definitely had indicators there, giving him probable cause, looking at the entire situation to feel confident in making an arrest for DUI, which is not something we take lightly.”
Documents stated England was able to provide a valid hemp growers license but gave an expired transportation license. The probable cause statement said he tested negative from a urine test, but Sgt. Street said the test is not comprehensive and they’re still waiting for results from the blood test.
In the past three days, England said he has spent thousands of dollars in order to make bail, retrieve his truck out of the impound lot, and hire a criminal defense attorney as well as a civil case attorney.
“We don’t make that much as hemp farmers and so thousands of dollars goes a long ways, maintaining our business for a month or so. It’s a huge loss, it puts us in the red for a while,” he said. “For my business, we basically had to stop operations for a few days to deal with this and so that’s really damaged us. I’ve got a backlog on clients now I gotta work with from the cannabis fair and I lost my tools to the repossession of my vehicle.”
England believes this incident is an example of the lack of awareness and understanding for the cannabis industry.
“I’m afraid that maybe law enforcement is still on edge about this and some of them don’t know how to deal with it,” he said. “I feel like the trooper had in his mind this bias that I was a kingpin of growers of some sort. Unfortunately, there still is a lot of problems in this industry with persecution and some old mentalities.”
Sgt. Street said Utah Highway Patrol has been instrumental in making sure troopers and officers have been aware of the public’s right to use medicinal cannabis and hemp ever since the Utah Medical Cannabis Act passed in 2018.
“We are very well-versed on what needs to be done to facilitate the public’s lawful use and production of cannabis. We’re putting our heart and soul into this for it to happen. So to claim that we keyed right in on one particular aspect of that huge portion of the DUI investigation, it’s concerning because it’s simply not true,” he said.
He added, “We’re out there actively looking for those driving under the influence. Impairment can come in any form. DUI doesn’t just involve alcohol. It can be prescription drugs, illicit drugs, controlled substances, and anything that can put the lives of others at risk when you’re behind the wheel.”
England said he’s confident his DUI charge will be dropped and plans to look into the possibility of civil rights violations with his attorney.
“I want to be able to represent this industry so we don’t have these things going on anymore, so farmers can feel like they’re not going to be persecuted, and so the public feels like they’re safe possessing any kind of hemp product,” he said. “I want law enforcement to start acting with less bias and accepting that this is a very viable product and viable industry to be in the public eye and they need to accept it with open arms.”
England’s arraignment was originally scheduled for Wednesday, but he said the date has been canceled as the county attorney is not ready to proceed and needs more time to decide if he will be charged.
Story provided by our news partners at ABC 4 News.