A Spokane Valley grandfather who openly told nearby law enforcement about his marijuana operation received what is believed to be the lowest federal sentence in decades Thursday when he was ordered to serve six months of home detention.
Although he faced a mandatory minimum of five years in prison after pleading guilty to two counts of manufacturing marijuana, 55-year-old Paul E. Ellis will be allowed to continue his upholstery business and care for three grandchildren because of his lack of any other criminal history.
“I believe you are a good person who has made serious mistakes,” U.S. District Court Judge Justin Quackenbush said. “Put those behind you in support of the good life you are leading.”
Three years ago, Ellis obtained a state license and started the Med Mar Dis dispensary at 7604 E. Sprague Ave. In the spring of 2010, Ellis walked across the street to the local office of the Washington State Patrol to let troopers know about his operation and asked them to watch out for potential robbers.
Alerted to the business by the WSP, Spokane County sheriff’s detectives visited Ellis in August 2010 and he showed them his dispensary. According to court testimony, Ellis – who is the sole provider for his wife and three grandchildren – also operates an upholstery business that had law enforcement officers as clients.
His defense attorney, Doug Phelps, said detectives found about 200 plants and charged him in state court. That case was dismissed so he could be prosecuted in federal court.
“I understand, as Mr. Ellis does now, the disparities between the state and federal law,” Phelps said. “He was very forthcoming about what he was doing.”
At one point, Ellis in 2010 asked WSP Sgt. Dave Bolton to send some marijuana he had obtained to the state crime lab to determine if it had been contaminated with chemicals.
“There is no way under state court that 200 plants was legal,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Earl Hicks said. “He knew that.”
After county detectives raided his grow operation in 2010, federal agents raided Ellis’ property again in March after they found him advertising marijuana on Craigslist. That raid netted about 90 plants.
Because Ellis started another grow operation, Hicks asked Quackenbush to sentence him to six months in prison.
In court, Ellis explained that he thought the change in Washington state law that allows people to possess up to an ounce of marijuana had changed the legal dynamic.
Since his arrest in March, Ellis – who had been smoking marijuana every day for 20 years – has started counseling and has stopped smoking.
“I have learned my lesson,” Ellis told Quackenbush. “I have no desire to grow, sell or use marijuana ever again. I smoked it for half my life. I look forward to living the other half of my life without it.”