Texas Hash Brownie Baker No Longer Faces a 10-Year Mandatory Minimum
Prosecutors in Williamson County, Texas, have decided to reduce the charges against Jacob Lavoro, the 19-year-old who faced 10 years to life in prison after police caught him with a pound and a half of hash brownies and cookies last April. Instead of a first-degree felony carrying a 10-year mandatory minimum sentence, Lavoro is now charged with two lesser felonies related to his possession of hash oil and marijuana. The more serious of those charges is a second-degree felony punishable by two to 20 years in prison, but The Austin American-Statesman reports that Lavoro could be eligible for probation. "The family and I are very grateful that common sense has prevailed," says Jack Holmes, Lavoro's lawyer, who until now has harshly criticized prosecutors for taking a relentlessly hard line in such a trivial vase.
The original charge against Lavoro was based on two aspects of Texas law that conspired to produce a penalty shocking enough to attract nationwide attention. Texas treats offenses involving cannabis concentrates, regardless of THC content, much more severely than offenses involving marijuana buds, and it counts "adulterants and dilutants" as part of a drug's weight. In Lavoro's case, as Williamson County First District Attorney Mark Brunner explained in May, that meant treating the baked goods as if they consisted entirely of hash oil, which put Lavoro well over the 400-gram cutoff for a first-degree felony. "As prosecutors," Brunner said then, "we are bound by what the law is, not what the law should be or could be."
But after hanging the prospect of a decade or more in prison over Lavoro's head for a few months, Brunner has decided the law leaves him some wiggle room after all. According to the American-Statesman, "Brunner said it was just more straightforward to charge Lavoro on the [counts] that did not involve the brownies." KXAN, Austin's NBC station, quotes him as saying, "We don't want to get bogged down in the distractions." Yet it was Brunner who created those "distractions" to begin with by threatening Lavoro with an outlandishly long sentence for a crime that is considered a legitimate business in Colorado and Washington.
[Thanks to Marc Sandhaus for the tip.]