PEORIA, Ariz. - A Peoria man is facing deportation for growing five extra marijuana plants than what is legally allowed to help with his chronic shoulder pain.
"Never thought I would do anything that was bad enough to get me deported," said 53-year-old Dennis Mejic. "I was, like, a plant can get you deported? But apparently it can."
If Mejic had 12 plants on Oct. 10, 2012, he would not be facing any legal repercussions. At the time, Mejic says he had a medical marijuana card for pain sustained after years of construction work.
However, Mejic was growing 17 plants at the time. According to paperwork we obtained, Peoria Police initiated a search warrant on his home, after Mejic says a neighbor complained about the smell. The exact reason is unclear in the report. Police found the plants growing in two rooms. Many were small and not yet flowering.
Mejic was taken to court, and negotiated a deal to plead guilty to one count of ‘Attempt to Commit Production of Marijuana,’ which is a Class 6 felony. After a year of probation, the charge was downgraded to a misdemeanor.
Mejic thought the nightmare was over until ICE showed up at his front door in 2013.
"So in the end, that criminal case kind of ended with probation - Don’t do that again - but nothing with regard to deportation until ICE got involved, and they charged him immediately with an aggravated felony, which is basically automatic detention and automatic deportation," said Mejic's attorney, David Asser.
Mejic was detained for nine months at an immigration detention facility in Eloy, and was eventually granted bond. In the years since then, Mejic and Asser have been arguing this case, with Asser claiming the crime is not serious enough for deportation.
"The facts are he grew 17 marijuana plants, that’s it," said Asser. "He never sold anything, never transported anything, definitely never distributed anything, so it’s a bizarre charge. It’s not a drug trafficking crime."
"They can pretty much deport you for almost anything, you know," said Mejic. "It’s not any kind of serious crime. It’s just, you know, they can just tell you ‘you’re out of here.’"
Mejic, who is a permanent U.S. resident, says the U.S. is the only country he knows, as he moved here from a country that no longer exists as it did when he was young.
"I’m a citizen of Yugoslavia, and after the [civil war], everything’s been divided, so it’s like where do you send me to? Serbia?" said Mejic. "It’s Croatia. They say I’m a Serbian citizen, but I don’t have any documentation."
According to the Encyclopaedia Britannica, Yugoslavia, until the 1990s, consisted of a number of federated states in Europe's Balkan Peninsula. By 1992, however, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Macedonia, and Slovenia broke away from Yugoslavia, and became independent. The remaining Yugoslavian states of Serbia, Montenegro, and Kosovo formed the country Serbia and Montenegro in 2003, ending the use of the name Yugoslavia. Three years after that, Montenegro declared independence.
When Mejic and Asser showed up to immigration court earlier this week, they found out the case was pushed back at the last minute by more than a year.
For now, Mejic tries to live a simple life. He works as a subcontractor, and spends his free time golfing, playing with his dog, hanging out with his son and caring for his aging mother.
However, Mejic says he is always looking over his shoulder.
"I tried golfing, and I’m not that good, but you know, I have a good time doing it, and it’s relaxing go out there and you really can’t get in trouble golfing," said Mejic. "I drive the speed limit with my blinkers, follow the law. I don’t do anything wrong. It’s like I have a bull's eye on my back."
For now, Mejic hopes ICE and the judge will rethink the charge and drop the case. If marijuana becomes legal federally, that could also help his escape from deportation.