Dennis Hunter holds aloft his youngest child, Cayman.

Dennis Hunter

Facing 20 Years to Life
Mandatory Minimum Sentence

Marijuana Conspiracy, Cultivation and Flight

On June 23, 1998, Dennis Hunter confronted some strangers tresspassing on his land in rural Humboldt county, California, telling them to get off his property. Instead, they pulled out badges and identified themselves as law enforcement officers. Three people were arrested in connection with a clandestine garden, but at least one attorney later argued that their part was minor compared to the landowners, Hunter and his friend Roy "Brian" Mercer. In the face of imminent arrest, Hunter fled the scene, where some 12,000 cannabis plants were later found in an indoor garden that was cleverly located inside a house near an electrical generator. The entire interior of the house had been designed and set up as a secret cannabis garden.

Hunter lived underground for four years with his wife Shireen and their two children. They lived a quiet life and made new friends who had no clue about his previous escapades. Eventually they began to connect with the medical marijuana movement in the northern part of the state. The ongoing investigation that originated with an anonymous tip four years earlier eventually led to Dennis' apprehension in 2002.

Having previously fled the law, Dennis Hunter's bail was set at more than one million dollars, and when his family was later able to finance that amount, his bail was rescinded by Judge Chesney on July 11, 2002. He is facing more than 20 years mandatory sentence for a combination of federal drug felony offenses, including cultivation of marijuana, maintaining a place where marijuana was cultivated, and flight. Federal prosecutors have offered a plea that would result in 13 years in prison.

 Cede, Shireen, Cayman and Dennis Hunter posed for a family portrait in happier times.

Shireen was implicated in the garden and kept from having any contact with Dennis for months after he was incarcerated.With her husband facing decades behind bars and fearful of losing her children, Shireen continues to advocate for his release.

If Dennis Hunter had been growing grapes and making wine, he would be a free person today and likely a prosperous entrepreneur. Because he was producing cannabis flowers instead, his life has been turned upside down and his family broken by the US government. It is discrimination to treat people so unequally for such similar behavior. Regulating marijuana like alcohol is one way that our elected officials can help prevent such needless tragedies from occurring in the future.

A note from David R. Ford

* Author of Marijuana: Not Guilty As Charged. Photos on this webpage are from Ford's new book:, Good Medicine, Great Sex! How Marijuana Brought me Creativity, Passion, and Prosperity. Hardcover released mid-July, 2003.

After my first book became available nationally, I began receiving dozens of emails from people who enjoyed it, and some wanted to meet me.

One was a lady who had just finished the book. I invited her and her husband to my home. Shireen appears to be in her mid-twenties. Husband Dennis is 29, handsome, very mellow and soft-spoken, with a shy smile. He has coal-black hair, a dark complexion, and serious brown eyes. Shireen is the opposite, with blond hair and sapphire eyes. We immediately became friends, and have been close for about three years. I have never met a couple more in love with each other and their two babies. Cede, age four, idolized her daddy. He played piggyback with her and her two-year-old brother, Cayman. Dennis frequently changed Cayman's diapers, helped prepare barbecues, and played with his children and wife in the pool. The children were always immaculate and filled with love and admiration for mother and father. This family could easily adorn the cover of any parents' magazine.

One day while Dennis was playing with the children on the lawn, Shireen confided in me, "I came from a background of divorce and sexual abuse. Dennis has been the only person in my life who has supported me and allowed me to start believing in myself. He has the most amazing outlook on life. He is full of compassion and desire to help people. I have never seen him hesitate to help anyone in need. Dennis is the kind of guy who stops to help an elderly person change a tire on the highway. He is so selfless. I have met no one else like that in today's busy world."

On March 31, 2002, Dennis Hunter was arrested by the DEA for growing medical-cannabis. This was his second arrest for growing medical cannabis. His parents and grandparents, who had worked the soil for generations, put up their properties, worth more than two million dollars, so that Dennis could be with Shireen and the children until his trial begins. Still the court, which frequently allows bail for alleged murderers, refuses to allow Dennis out on bail.

Dennis is facing 20 years to life in prison for growing some of the finest-quality medicine in the country. Ten DEA agents handcuffed him in front of his children, in their own home. The children do not understand what is happening and almost constantly cry and fuss. Shireen has lost more than ten pounds and is ill.

Should Dennis Hunter be put in prison, possibly for the rest of his life, for the crime of compassion? Pot must be moved from Schedule I to Schedule III, equal to the synthetic copycat pot capsule Marinol, or legalized. Even if you have never used cannabis, please demand a change in the law. Dennis is only one of around 75,000 nonviolent Americans now incarcerated for cannabis offenses involving this relatively harmless plant, one of the world's safest medicines and safest highs. How will Shireen, their children, and tens of thousands of other children grow up with a parent, or both parents, in prison? Two-year-old Cayman no longer recognizes his "dada." The DEA turns good Samaritans into criminals.

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