Man receives $25,000 fine in marijuana case

WAILUKU — A Kula man was ordered to pay a $25,000 fine after he was arrested last year with a suitcase containing marijuana and marijuana concentrate at Molokai Airport.

John Rossberg, 56, was placed on four years’ probation as part of his sentence imposed Thursday.

Rossberg was “on his way to a marijuana competition on Oahu” on May 18, 2016, when he was found to have the “suitcase full of hashish,” said Deputy Prosecutor Kenton Werk.

Police were called after a Mokulele Airlines employee noticed a strong smell of marijuana coming from the suitcase, which contained 4 ounces of marijuana and more than 5 ounces of marijuana concentrate, according to police.

Werk said Rossberg’s four-page letter to the court showed how he was “so disconnected from reality” that he would try to transport the drug through the airport after he had been given a chance to keep felony drug convictions off his record in 2001.

“But in his alternate reality, this is his lifestyle, his hobby, his future, his great contribution to society,” Werk said.

He said Rossberg appeared to be using a car accident when he was 31 “as a veneer of legitimacy to continue a lifestyle” of marijuana use that he began at age 15.

Rossberg had pleaded no contest to second-degree promotion of a harmful drug and possessing drug paraphernalia.

The prosecution sought a one-year jail term for Rossberg and the fine.

Deputy Public Defender Danielle Sears, arguing for no jail, said Rossberg wouldn’t be prosecuted for his behavior in some other states.

“We can see in 10 years or however long it’s going to be, this will no longer be a crime,” she said.

Second Circuit Judge Peter Cahill said that while it may not be a crime under some state laws, “it’s a crime under federal law.”

Cahill questioned why Rossberg was represented by the public defender’s office when he has nearly $3 million in assets, nine houses and earns $5,000 a month in rental income.

“You think the legislators might say, ‘And he’s getting a free lawyer at taxpayer expense?'” Cahill said.

“Sometimes things fall through the cracks,” Sears said.

Rossberg said that many of his assets are owned by his wife.

He asked to be allowed to continue smoking marijuana through the state medical marijuana program.

“He understands what he did was wrong,” Sears said. “It’s ridiculous how lackadaisical he was in transporting it.”

Cahill also noted that Rossberg had been using marijuana before being involved in a car accident.

“I’m not going to tell you that you’re using marijuana as a crutch,” Cahill said. “My suggestion is, if you really do have all this pain and suffering from your accident . . . there are other things that you can be doing. And they don’t have to be based or related to any kind of drugs. In the old days, there was another alternative, and that was called grin and bear it.”

Cahill said he wasn’t sentencing Rossberg to jail but was ordering the fine.

“It’s not because you have the means to do it but because there needs to be a punishment that extends beyond just the probation with no jail time,” Cahill said. “It is unusual for the court to do that. I hadn’t thought of that before because it’s so rarely done.”

As part of his probation, Rossberg was ordered not to have illegal or unprescribed drugs. Cahill said medical marijuana would be considered a prescribed drug if Rossberg complies with requirements under the state medical marijuana program.

Under the state program, a physician must certify that a patient has a health condition that would benefit from medical marijuana use before the patient can be issued a registration card to use medical marijuana, Werk said.

Rossberg was ordered not to be in the presence of people using illegal drugs, including medical marijuana.

* Lila Fujimoto can be reached at lfujimoto@mauinews.com.

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