A judge is expected to make a ruling as to whether four Washington County residents should face felony charges in district court for illegally distributing cannabidiol.
Deborah S. Archer, 51, of Blair, Cory L. Russell, 28, of Herman, Edward L. Hossner, 51, and Donna R. Johnson, 49, both of Kennard, appeared in a joint preliminary hearing Thursday in Washington County Court.
Cannabidiol, also known as “CBD,” is a marijuana derivative and is a controlled substance according to Nebraska state statute.
Archer, Russell, Hossner and Johnson were arrested in December following a month-long investigation of DJ’s Vapes, 408 Main St., Herman, by the Washington County Sheriff’s Office. The investigation centered around the sales and distribution of items containing cannabidiol.
Hossner and Johnson, who are alleged to be co-owners of the store, are charged with conspiracy, a Class IIA felony.
Archer, store manager and co-owner, is charged with two counts of possession of a controlled substance with intent to deliver, a Class IIA felony; and conspiracy.
Russell is charged with possession of a controlled substance with intent to deliver and conspiracy.
During the preliminary hearing, Detective Sgt. Aaron Brensel testified the sheriff’s office became aware of the potential of drugs being sold in the convenience store after they were contacted by some concerned parents.
On Nov. 1, Brensel entered the store, where Russell was working. He observed a variety of grocery items for sale.
“What really caught my eye were items labeled CBD,” Brensel said.
Brensel also saw a small sign promoting CBDs, which he said he knew to be illegal due to state statute and a memorandum sent to all county attorneys by the Nebraska Attorney General’s Office.
Following his first visit to the store, Brensel checked with Washington County Assessor’s Office to determine who owned the business. He determined the business was owned by Hossner and Johnson.
Defense attorneys for Hossner and Johnson claim the couple sold the business to Archer prior to CBDs being sold in the store. They do, however, own the physical building and collect rent on both the business and the apartment, which Russell lives in.
The state offered a photo, published in the Pilot-Tribune in October 2016, showing all four defendants in the store. The photo caption listed Hossner and Johnson as co-owners and Archer as the business manager.
Brensel returned to DJ’s Vapes later that month and purchased edible gummies, which tested positive for CBD. He also inquired about CBD pills, which Russell said his boss could order.
On a subsequent visit, Brensel noted a digital sign outside the building was promoting CBD oils and edibles. Archer was present during this visit and sold Brensel CBD pills.
After their arrests, Russell told Brensel that the store began selling CBDs in August or September. He also admitted to personally using the product, but that he initially didn’t know they were illegal. He said he saw a news report indicating they were illegal in Nebraska.
Russell told the detective he last saw Hossner or Johnson in the store the previous week. Johnson had purchased CBDs for Hossner. During another interview, Johnson denied purchasing CBDs for Hossner. She claimed she bought the products for herself.
Brensel said Archer told him she had purchased the CBDs from a company in Florida.
Brensel was the state’s lone witness. The defense didn’t offer any evidence or witnesses.
Judge C. Matthew Samuelson asked the state and defense attorneys to submit closing arguments in a letter.