December 2019

How an Unsolved Murder Got Legal Weed Lobbyist Eapen Thampy Indicted on Drug Charges

On the evening of Sunday, Dec. 10, 2017, residents of a country-club neighborhood in Columbia, Missouri, went to bed unaware that one of their neighbors had nearly 1,000 pounds of high-grade Oregon marijuana parked in the driveway outside his home.

The home was being rented by 28-year-old Augustus Gus Roberts, the son of a circuit court judge. Under the cover of darkness, several suspects forced their way inside, murdered him, and made off with the weed-filled U-Haul.

The killers didnt go far, abandoning the U-Haul at the end of the neighborhoods cul-de-sac. Police arrived to find Roberts outside, near his driveway, dead of an apparent gunshot wound. They also found 94 pounds of weed and 3,000 THC oil pens used for vaping in the trailer and in Roberts bedroom closet.

In the year and a half since, nine people have been arrested as a result of the homicide investigationthough none of them has been charged with committing that crime. Instead, law enforcement officials have rounded up a collection of Roberts alleged co-conspirators on drug-related counts.

The highest-profile bust was Eapen Thampy, a well-known lobbyist around the state Capitol whose chief issue has been marijuana legalization and criminal justice reformand who is now accused of being part of a network that distributed more than 2,200 pounds of marijuana over three years. The chargeswhich stem from the Roberts investigation, according to a DEA agents affidavitcould put Thampy in prison for life.

Its not lost on supporters of marijuana policy reform that Roberts death was precisely the type of violence that they believe legalization would prevent. Once you have organized crime you have people taking matters into their own hands, says Steve Fox, president of VS Strategies and a longtime D.C.-based marijuana policy reform advocate. The same issues you had associated with alcohol prohibition in the early part of the last century, with organized crime and violencethose things largely, if not entirely, go away once the substance in question is legal and regulated.

In 2015, at the age of 31, Thampy founded Heartland Priorities, an organization that lobbies for marijuana legalization. He occupied a distinctive niche in the effort by arguing for reform from a right-wing and Libertarian perspective to a state legislature controlled by a Republican super-majority. He regularly appeared on talk radio throughout the state and beat the drum for individual liberty as a basis for legal weed and for criminal justice and sentencing reform. Hes been photographed with Sens. Rand Paul and Roy Blunt, as well as a former governor and current state attorney general.

It breaks my heart that this is happening to him, says Tom Mundell, a Silver Star and Purple Heart recipient who focuses on marijuana reform from a veterans and PTSD perspective. He was doing a lot to give people who had never had a break in their life the opportunity to have generational wealth through the hemp industry.

But authorities allege that Thampy had a side hustle to his political work. They claim in the indictment that between January 2015 and September 2018, he was part of a drug distribution network connected to Roberts.

According to a DEA agents affidavit, before Roberts death, he was receiving marijuana from Oregon via a middleman who had been a DEA informant in the past and who supplied Roberts with 280 to 350 pounds of marijuana every three to four weeks for about nine months up until his death.

After Roberts was killed, the middleman began cooperating with the feds again and arranged for an especially large shipment of marijuana to be sent from Oregon to Missouri, according to a DEA agents affidavit. Authorities intercepted some 1,800 pounds of high-grade weed from a commercial trailer in Wyoming and arrested Craig Smith of Oregon, Roberts alleged supplier.

Among other things, the indictment charges in a separate count that Smith and Thampy sought to sell a smaller amount of marijuana in February of last year.

Authorities have charged seven others, including a Columbia mother and son who allegedly used drug-dealing proceeds to purchase, among other things, a flamethrower. Court documents allege one of the defendants donated $1,000 in drug money to Better Way Missouri, a political action committee represented by Thampy.

Thampy, who is free pending trial next year, declined to comment for this article, and calls to his attorney were not returned.

Even before his arrest, Thampy was a controversial figure for some.

New Approach Missouri is the organization most responsible for getting medical marijuana legalized via a statewide vote last year, and multiple people affiliated with that organization say Thampy ran interference on them and sought to tank the amendment until right before the election, when polling clearly showed it would pass. They believe Thampy viewed the effort as a threat to his career lobbying the state legislature.

One of Thampys key issues was curbing civil asset forfeiture, a process in which law enforcement confiscates property it believes was used to facilitate criminal activities. I dont know anyone who knows the laws around asset forfeiture the way he does, Mundell says.

In an ironic twist, the government has now launched a forfeiture action in the case stemming from Roberts death. The feds are looking to seize an industrial building in White City, Oregon; a gated estate in Central Point; a parcel of land adjacent to an airstrip in Cave Junction; $100,000 of confiscated cash and a Columbia house worth roughly $250,000.

Dan Russo, the attorney representing Smith, told the Columbia Daily Tribune he believes the case is an example of law enforcement making a last-ditch attempt to empty the pockets for anyone involved with marijuana on any level before what many see as the drugs inevitable legalization at the national level.

Meanwhile, as Thampy, Smith and the others face an uncertain fate, one thing is for sure: For now, at least, someone has gotten away with the murder of Gus Roberts.

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FDA Throws Doubt On CBD’s Safety In Controversial New Warning

CBD is everywhere, from face creams and dog food to chocolate bars and CBD-infused pillowcases. But now, health authorities in the US now warning that many products being sold in this fledgling market could potentially be dangerous. 

On the other hand, some medical professionals and marijuana companies have pushed back against the announcement, accusing the health officials of being “inappropriately alarmist.”

The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has issued warning letters to 15 companies for illegally selling products containing CBD. They have also warned that they can’t guarantee many unregulated CBD products are safe due to the lack of scientific information regarding its safety, suggesting there’s some evidence that CBD supplements can cause liver damage, diarrhea, and mood changes.

CBD is short for cannabidiol, the second most prevalent of the active ingredients of cannabis. Unlike tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the compound is not psychoactive and it doesn’t give users a fuzzy-headed high. It has been shown to hold some therapeutic benefits, especially for managing anxiety, chronic pain, nausea associated with chemotherapy, and some forms of epilepsy.

However, according to the FDA, some of the claims touted by the manufacturers are not scientifically proven and could be misleading consumers. 

“We remain concerned that some people wrongly think that the myriad of CBD products on the market, many of which are illegal, have been evaluated by the FDA and determined to be safe, or that trying CBD ‘can’t hurt,’ ” Amy Abernethy, FDA Principal Deputy Commissioner, said in a statement.

“Aside from one prescription drug approved to treat two pediatric epilepsy disorders, these products have not been approved by the FDA and we want to be clear that a number of questions remain regarding CBD’s safety – including reports of products containing contaminants, such as pesticides and heavy metals – and there are real risks that need to be considered,“ she added.

“This overarching approach regarding CBD is the same as the FDA would take for any other substance that we regulate.” 

One concern brought up by the health authorities was that some CBD products were marketed for kids. This dramatically increases the risk of an adverse reaction as children have many differences in the ability to absorb, metabolize, and excrete a substance like CBD. The FDA has also flagged up similar concerns with CBD products manufactured as animal food.

Nevertheless, the FDA’s announcement has proved controversial. As per Forbes, a number of cannabis companies have criticized the decision; Medical Marijuana, Inc. said disputes the claim CBD has “toxic liver effects,” while CV Sciences said the FDA’s warning had “an inappropriate alarmist tone.”

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