International — 08 April 2014 — by Rowland A. Parks
John Downard, 49, an American accused of importation of hemp seed, has no case to answer

Magistrate Leslie Hamilton dismissed the case of an American who was accused of importation and distribution of a controlled drug — hemp seed.

An American man who has been living in Belize for ten years and who is the director of Vortech Limited, a company that represents newly patented technologies, was arrested and charged on December 4, 2013, after he was found to be bringing 461 grams of hemp seeds into Belize on his return from a trip to Colorado.

Authorities charged John Downard with one count of importation of a controlled substance and one count of distribution of a controlled drug.

The trial started in February and has been through a number of adjournments. But on Monday morning, John Downard, who resides in San Ignacio, was cleared of the two charges, when in the Belize City Magistrate’s Court, Magistrate Leslie Hamilton ruled in favor of a no-case-to-answer submission made by Downard’s attorney, Rachael Montejo.

Downard, Magistrate Hamilton found, was not in contravention of the Misuse of Drugs Act – a judgment that was to a great extent based on the findings of a lab test conducted on the seeds: “Conclusion: cannabis resin not detected. Morphology of seeds consistent with fruits from the cannabis plant,” said the lab report that was done at Belize Forensic Lab by Diana Bol-Noble, a forensic analyst.

Hamilton told Downard that he upheld the no-case submission because no resin was detected in the forensic analyst report and that this means that the possession and transportation of the seeds does not fall under the interpretation of the Misuse of Drugs Act.

Hamilton also noted the distinctive characteristics that define a controlled drug, as contained in the prosecution’s case, and noted that the hemp seeds did not fit that categorization, which is outlined in the Misuse of Drugs Act.

According to Downard, hemp seed is used for many purposes, including as a component in paper, and in the formulation of sprays for mosquito bites.

Montejo told Amandala after the hearing that when the police discovered the hemp seeds, they believed that the seeds were actually cannabis seeds.

“Hemp seeds are being sold right now in the country at Reimer’s,” Downard offered, and to demonstrate his point, he took a bottle of hemp oil to court.

The prosecutor at the conclusion of the trial indicated to the court that he would be referring to the Belize Police Department to file a notice of appeal.

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