Delaware's Marijuana Robin Hood
In some circles, Jessica Andreavich is known as the Robin Hood of Delaware's medical marijuana community. But to law enforcement and others, she is a drug-dealing felon who gamed the system.
For years, the activist and medicinal marijuana cardholder turned the plant form of the drug into edible candies, oils and creams for Delawareans with ailments like cancer, multiple sclerosis and post-traumatic stress disorder. State law permits those with cards to share marijuana.
Experts and physicians say ingesting marijuana in a food form can make it more potent and last longer than smoking it.
Occasionally, Andreavich would give her candy to military veterans struggling to get into the state's program.
Only recently did the 45-year-old – who uses marijuana to treat her depression, anxiety and arthritis – start charging people the cost of processing marijuana into an alternative form, making little to no profit, she said.
But the minute money and drugs were exchanged with those not permitted to have it, Andreavich broke Delaware law. She was found guilty Wednesday of one count of drug-dealing and one count of conspiracy after selling five marijuana gummy candies and one bottle of tincture (plant extract) for $60 to an undercover New Castle County detective. She was sentenced to one year of probation and community service.
"I've always known that if they (the state's medical marijuana program) decided to turn me in, I'd go to jail over this," said the former employee of First State Compassion Center, which operates the state's two medical marijuana dispensaries. "But it was not designed to make money."
Andreavich believes the state dispensary charges patients too much for the product, and she has made it her mission to make medical marijuana more affordable for the poor.
"This sounds like somebody who has a real humanitarian spirit," said Dr. David Bearman, a clinical medical cannabis expert. "And indeed, cannabis is very expensive. ... Frankly, I think that law enforcement has better things to do with their time."
Under state code, those who are afflicted with specific ailments such as cancer or multiple sclerosis can obtain a medical marijuana card to ease their pain. But the marijuana must be purchased at one of two state-approved dispensaries.
During a raid of Andreavich's Newark home, police also found seven bottles of cannabis oil, five cannabis creams, five cannabis soaps, 26 bottles of marijuana tincture and an additional 790 marijuana gummies.
She was originally charged with five counts of drug-dealing, one count of possession of a controlled substance in a Tier 2 quantity, one count of possession of drug paraphernalia and one count of conspiracy.
Drug-dealing, as defined by Delaware law, forbids the manufacturing, delivery or possession with the intent to manufacture or deliver a controlled substance, including marijuana – whether or not money is exchanged.
Those with medical marijuana cards are allowed to share marijuana with fellow cardholders, as long as it doesn't surpass the 6 ounces they're permitted to have at one time, according to program code. They also sign a paper specifying they "will not divert marijuana to any individual or entity that is not allowed to possess marijuana."
That's where Andreavich went wrong, according to the state. By unlawfully distributing marijuana to a police officer – or person legally not permitted to have it – she engaged in the act of drug-dealing, the state Attorney General's Office said in a statement.
"While the Delaware Medical Marijuana Act recognizes certain circumstances where an individual may dispense marijuana, this Act, of course, requires registration compliance and does not allow the transfer of marijuana to any person who is not allowed to possess marijuana under Delaware law," the AG's office said. "Adherence to these provisions is important to the safe distribution of a substance that Delaware law continues to recognize as having a high potential for abuse."
Andreavich's case raises questions about the access to the state's medical marijuana program and the high cost of marijuana once patients are accepted into the program. These issues have been debated since a law allowing the sale of medical marijuana was approved in 2011.
Patients complain of paying high costs for small amounts of marijuana at the First State Compassion Centers – one outside Wilmington and another near Lewes. Many say the cost makes it nearly impossible for low-income patients to afford the drug prescribed to them by a doctor.
Andreavich saw this frustration firsthand while working with medical marijuana patients, both with Canna Care Docs and at the dispensary. Canna Care Docs, which has an office in Wilmington, is a national group of physicians who can qualify patients into medical marijuana programs.
"There are people who can't get into the program," she said. "If they're poor, they have to find money."
That was Peter Skorupa's plight, a 23-year-old man who lives with Andreavich and was also arrested and charged when police raided her home.
Skorupa has been trying to get into the state's medical marijuana program for months to treat his mental health issues, but he can't raise enough money to see a doctor who will sign off. Even then, he knows he won't have enough cash to cover the purely out-of-pocket cost of marijuana from the dispensary.
He helped Andreavich make the edible products, saying he "truly believed in what she was doing." Skorupa's father is a veteran and he has seen firsthand the difficulties vets face in getting adequate healthcare from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs for treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder and other illnesses.
National data from the VA suggests up to 22 veterans commit suicide each day because of struggles with mental health disorders.
Andreavich and Skorupa said they sold to an undercover police officer because they believed the agent was a struggling veteran in need of cannabis to control PTSD symptoms. The officer, whom they say showed a valid veteran's card, reportedly applied for acceptance into the medical marijuana program but had yet to be accepted.
"We're not out there trying to harm anybody," said Skorupa, who pleaded guilty to possession of marijuana, conspiracy and possession of drug paraphernalia. "Marijuana is a legal gray area."
He's not wrong, said Bearman, adding that the definition and classification of marijuana both medically and legally creates difficulties in how the drug is treated.
Delaware still considers marijuana a Schedule 1 drug, which means it has the "high potential for abuse." Yet its use is considered legal for some with particular illnesses or ailments.
Meanwhile, Bearman points to the historical use of cannabis in medicines dating back thousands of years. This case, Bearman said, doesn't surprise him because Delaware doesn't sell edible marijuana products.
Bearman acknowledges that Andreavich broke the law by selling the product and by providing it to someone without a medical marijuana card. But if her goal was to be entrepreneurial and help those who couldn't afford it, Bearman said he struggles to find fault with what she did.
"Obviously, she's guilty of being foolish," Bearman said. "But I do think there certainly are growers who are willing to cut people a break and dispensaries who will cut people a break who have this kind of need. She's not the only person who's tried to help somebody out and she won't be the last."
The tip that brought an investigation
Officers were tipped off to Andreavich's home-based business after Joseph Schlimer, the state's medical marijuana compliance manager, notified police in October, court papers say.
Schlimer had conducted an investigation in March 2016 into Andreavich giving a marijuana-infused edible – a gummy candy – to an "unauthorized individual" at First State Compassion Center, according to court documents.
This occurred soon after WRDE-TV, a downstate NBC news affiliate, ran a story on Andreavich's illegal edible delivery service. The story was focused on the importance of breaking the stigma surrounding marijuana and making it accessible to low-income people.
First State Compassion Center, where Andreavich was both a patient and a caregiver, revoked her patient card, but later reinstated it in April 2016, according to court documents. At the dispensary, she worked as a patient adviser, a cook and a packager, she said.
Schlimer also issued a cease-and-desist letter to Andreavich in September, according to court documents, "advising her to stop any and all illegal sales of Jekka's Folly infused edibles." Jekka's Folly is the name of her now-expired business that sought to educate people on the use of medical marijuana and help users get into the state's program.
Andreavich said Thursday she never received the letter.
"I always knew this could happen," she said, adding that she believes issues between her and the dispensary prompted the police investigation. Court records indicate that police received information about Andreavich from Schlimer.
But she has never been shy about her pro-pot feelings, posting to Facebook publicly and often about the benefits of marijuana. With more than 4,500 Facebook friends, her posts garnered support and reaction, especially through her two-day trial.
Earlier, in June 2016, Andreavich penned a Letter to the Editor in The News Journal calling for the use of medical marijuana to help combat the heroin problem. Many believe the drug can be used to ease the rehabilitation process.
"I work closely with many patients to educate them on how to use marijuana as a substitute for many prescription medications and have seen great success with all my patients in reducing the need for opiates," she wrote. "Substance abuse has taken people I love from this world, and it’s an issue very dear to my heart. Please don’t allow the social stigmas that surround medical marijuana to turn you away from helping a community in desperate need of help."
Andreavich's sister, Sherry Leitner, used medical marijuana to combat her opiate addiction. She swears she wouldn't be alive without the help of Andreavich and the benefits of the drug.
Now, with her sister's conviction, Leitner fears other patients may face punishment for others who disagree with operators of the state's medical marijuana dispensaries.
"As a patient, it scares me that if they (the state) don't like you, they can cause an investigation into you," Leitner said.
What police found
In early December, an undercover police officer contacted Andreavich about purchasing her products, court papers say, and Andreavich agreed. Court documents then jump to when the detective arrived at Andreavich's home, but she says more conversations happened in between.
Andreavich said she advised the police officer to see a doctor and get a signature to obtain a medical marijuana card before she agreed to meet and sell the product.
"I was only doing it with card holders or medical patients who had trouble getting into the program," she said.
When the police officer told her that the signature from a doctor was obtained and the application for a medical marijuana card was in the mail, Andreavich said she agreed to meet.
On Dec. 20, the detective came to Andreavich's home and met with her and Skorupa. Both explained the edible products to the officer and sold the gummies and tincture, according to court documents.
Weeks later, police searched her home and found the evidence needed to charge Andreavich, Skorupa and Russell Sloan with multiple counts of drug-dealing, possession of drug paraphernalia, Tier 2 possession charges and conspiracy, according to court documents.
Sloan, who was at Andreavich's home during the search warrant and had marijuana in his jacket, also pleaded guilty in court to possession of marijuana and conspiracy.
Police said Andreavich, better known to her customers as Jekka, operated Jekka's Folly – an unlicensed business that produced "marijuana infused edibles to give/sell to other patients for cash," according to court documents. Court papers say she would post the prices online and then sell to people.
"Most of the time, they would give me the product, and I would just cook it for them," Andreavich said.
But the exchange of marijuana – especially when there are large amounts involved – still puts people at risk, according to New Castle County police. And when it's done illegally, officers have a duty to enforce the law, said Col. Vaughn Bond, chief of the county Police Department.
Crimes like robbery and assault are commonly associated with the illegal sale of marijuana, Bond said.
"In fact, we have investigated several homicides which centered on the illegal sale of marijuana," Bond said. "It’s common knowledge among criminals that the illegal sale of marijuana is a business where large amounts of money is exchanged – making both dealers and users targets of crimes."
Nearly two years ago, 27-year-old Shazim Uppal was found shot to death in his vehicle in Hockessin. Police said Uppal was shot in a robbery during a drug deal. More than 30 pounds of high-grade marijuana worth well over $100,000 were found in the car's trunk.
Earlier this month, four young men were killed in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, over marijuana in a story that drew national attention. Two cousins were charged in their deaths.
"By taking enforcement action against illegal marijuana sales, we are preventing serious crimes from occurring," Bond added.
Though Andreavich fought the charges, a two-day trial landed her a guilty verdict and the inability to have a medical marijuana card, she said.
Hours after her verdict, Andreavich livestreamed on Facebook about her frustrations with a system that allows medicinal marijuana dispensaries to increase prices for people in need of the drug.
"Although the community wasn't really in danger by the evil Jekka, there were businesses that were in jeopardy because I like to give stuff at much lower prices because we have such sick people here in Delaware that can't afford medicine," she said in the Facebook video. "So I'm absolutely guilty of helping out some card holders with cheaper medicine through the black market."
She plans to appeal the verdict and reapply for a medical marijuana card, Andreavich said, because she needs the drug to keep her ailments under control.
Yet she doesn't regret the decision that forever marks her as a convicted felon.
"I would not have done anything differently," she said.