Crime

Couple convicted of illegal pot grow-op near Birch Bay

A Whatcom County couple must serve a serve a three-month sentence for running an unlicensed marijuana farm near Birch Bay, a Superior Court judge ruled Thursday, Oct. 13, 2016.
A Whatcom County couple must serve a serve a three-month sentence for running an unlicensed marijuana farm near Birch Bay, a Superior Court judge ruled Thursday, Oct. 13, 2016. TNS

A Whatcom County couple must serve a three-month sentence for running an unlicensed marijuana farm near Birch Bay, a Superior Court judge ruled this week.

A sheriff’s deputy learned of the grow-op in October 2014, when talking with a car-full of people who said they worked for Steven Harlin Hovander, 64, and Starlare Hovander, 64, clipping marijuana buds at 3591 Birch Bay-Lynden Road.

A deputy spoke with Mrs. Hovander, who claimed she had a valid license to grow the plant, but when the deputy asked her to come show it to him, her “cellphone cut out and shut off,” according to charging papers. The couple’s house had a pending application to grow legal recreational cannabis, but no one had been granted a license yet.

A judge granted a warrant to search the property. About 395 plants were recovered, along with 154 pounds of processed marijuana, according to the charges.

Deputies returned to the house around New Year’s Eve, and noticed a strong odor of pot again. Another search warrant was granted, and another 639 plants were seized from the house.

This time three legitimate marijuana prescriptions were found. So they left 45 plants, in accordance with the maximum number of plants allowed for cannabis patients.

A third warrant was served on the Hovanders’ property at 10453 Mount Baker Highway on Feb. 5. A total of 173 plants were discovered.

As the couple awaited trial, the Washington State Court of Appeals affirmed a conviction in another grow-op case from 2011, when the Hovanders were arrested for having 256 marijuana plants at the Mount Baker Highway address.

The couple’s attorney argued that evidence should have been suppressed at trial because deputies walked onto their property without a warrant.

The appeals court upheld the ruling by the trial judge, Ira Uhrig, that “the routes traveled by the deputies were impliedly open, and that the deputies acted in a manner consistent with a reasonably respectful citizen.”

The couple pleaded guilty Thursday in the more recent case to illegal manufacturing of marijuana, a class C felony.

“They really did think they were doing it appropriately, but it turns out they weren’t,” said John Henry Browne, the defendants’ attorney.

As part of their sentence, the judge, Raquel Montoya-Lewis, ordered the couple to serve the time from the 2011 case. They can serve their three months on county jail alternatives.

Caleb Hutton: 360-715-2276, @bhamcaleb

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