Microchips, Helicopters & Covert Ops: Kentucky’s Crazy Pursuit of 70 Marijuana Plants

Drug Bust Cannabis Now

An ex-sheriff’s former colleagues used the full power of the surveillance state to bust his hemp farm-turned-cannabis grow.


Denny Peyman is the former sheriff of Jackson County, a dry county in Kentucky, where fewer than 14,000 souls live in the heart of the Daniel Boone National Forest. This September, Peyman got himself caught growing marijuana, in one of the most dramatic examples of a local police pot bust in recent memory.

Despite his best (and at times, questionable) efforts, Peyman served only one term as the top cop in Jackson County — more than enough time for him to acquire a bit of a reputation for speaking his mind and taking the law into his own hands.

After leaving office in 2015, Peyman set himself up as a farmer — a special kind of farmer. Peyman was an early participant in the state’s pilot project to allow for the cultivation of industrial hemp, or “medical hemp,” as Peyman described his crops in a Facebook post.

This year, Peyman was approved to cultivate 20 acres’ worth of hemp — which, according to his former colleagues in law enforcement at the Kentucky State Police, was cover for growing marijuana, a conclusion the KSP drew after undertaking a sophisticated investigation worthy of a Bluegrass County El Chapo, as the Lexington Herald-Leader reported.

As savvy readers know, hemp and marijuana are identical in the Linnaean sense. They’re both cannabis sativa. The difference — a clarification applicable in America only since the passage of the 2014 federal Farm Bill — is that hemp has 0.3 percent THC or less. Anything stronger than that, and your cannabis sativa is marijuana.

In theory, a genetic mutation or a cultivation “accident” could cause a plant to produce more THC. This isn’t what happened with Heyman, according to the Kentucky State Police — and given the effort they put into surveilling the former lawman, they should know.

State police first suspected something was amiss after flying over Peyman’s farm in July. From the air, they spotted some questionable plants set about 350 yards away from Peyman’s hemp in a tree line, covered with weeds.

Normal police procedure in other jurisdictions, like California, would be to enter the farm and cut down the plants. (To do that, you don’t even need a warrant.) Instead, police “sneaked to the plants without Peyman’s knowledge, took samples, mounted hidden cameras near the plants and a nearby parking spot, and put tracking microchips in six of the 61 plants at the site,” a state police officer testified at a recent court appearance.

Returning to the plot again on Sept. 5 in secrecy, they found the weed had been harvested. They returned with a search warrant the following day and found the “suspected marijuana” in Peyman’s barn. And sure enough, subsequent results from the tests revealed they had more THC than is allowed in Kentucky’s hemp program.

Two men accused of growing the weed on Peyman’s farm told police that Peyman was worried about losing his farm and wanted to enter the marijuana business in an effort to save it, the newspaper reported.

Police also discovered anabolic steroids at the property.

Currently, Peyman is free on bond pending an indictment from a grand jury. A hearing is set for Nov. 7.

To spend so much time and resources pursuing a few dozen marijuana plants is a bizarre move in Kentucky. The state leads the nation in hepatitis C infections, a development with its roots in the opiate crisis. Plus, the state has one of the highest incidences of violence against women in the country. If Peyman’s crimes had an identified victim of any kind, perhaps the efforts made to bring him to “justice” wouldn’t seem to outrageous. Clearly, police had better things to be pursuing than 71 cannabis plants.

But lest you feel too much sympathy for Denny Peyman and wish ill upon the peace officers who pursued him with uncommon vigor, consider: Peyman is what you might call conservatively call a megalomaniac.

His immediate response to the Sandy Hook shooting was an unhinged jeremiad, declaring that no federal effort to “trample” the Second Amendment would stand “in my county.” Peyman also arrested two former county officials on his own initiative, without a warrant, an act for which he was sued in federal court alleging a false arrest, and made to pay $62,500 in damages.

Not a great guy! Maybe even a bad man — but in a state with plenty of crime to choose from, sending in covert commandos to conduct electronic surveillance on weed plants is at best bizarre — and, at worst, exactly the kind of government overreach Peyman made a career railing against. You hate to prove a guy like that right.

TELL US, do you think the surveillance state should be employed against cannabis?

Chris Roberts has written about medical cannabis, drug policy, and legalization ever since spending a few months in Humboldt County in 2009, with bylines for the San Francisco Chronicle, San Francisco Examiner, and SF Weekly. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram @cbloggy.

1 Comment

  1. Rosaura

    October 2, 2017 at 4:51 pm

    My mother & brother have pain .. arthritis pain . I want to help them . Please advise .

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