Man: E-cig led to positive drug test

LIHUE — A Kapaa man on probation told a Kauai judge “he was more confused than anybody” as to how he could have ingested meth when he tested positive during a mandatory screening.

The only thing Lindsey David Johnson, 34, said he did differently was “take a hit” from an e-cigarette.

Johnson, who works as a framer building houses, was on a smoke break and asked a co-worker if he could bum a smoke from him, said deputy public defender Stephanie Char.

“He didn’t feel any kind pharmacological effect from taking that hit, you know that was out of the norm for him,” Char told the court Wednesday. “Lo and behold, a day later, he pops up dirty on a test.”

Char claimed Johnson took a hit from a co-worker’s e-cigarette, and had no way of knowing whether it had methamphetamine in it.

“What we know about meth and e-cigs is only anecdotal,” said Pallav Pokhrel, University of Hawaii Cancer Center Assistant Professor. “We know anecdotally that individuals may use meth by means of an e-cigarette. Can someone inhale meth unintentionally— or, without being able to tell that it is meth they are inhaling —via an e-cigarette? I don’t know.”

A store clerk at a local vape shop said he’s heard of people dripping marijuana into their e-cigarettes but never methamphetamine. People drip different flavored liquids — sometimes they contain nicotine — into the atomizer to vape, he said.

“I highly doubt that’s possible,” he said.”How would you do that? I can see that people could get the heat off of it, but just to do it itself … You would have to go out beyond and modify it a crazy amount.”

The modification would make the e-cigarette, which is comprised of three main parts — a mod, a battery, and an atomizer — look extremely different and unrecognizable, he said.

A’Alona Dela Cruz, owner of Fat Clouds Vaping Supplies, said although his store doesn’t recommend modifying e-cigarettes for illegal drug use, he thinks anything is possible when it comes to an e-cigarette.

“The consumer with enough talent could modify the equipment to smoke meth,” he said. “They could probably rig something to make it work.”

A Kauai Police Department spokeswoman said officers are aware of the trend of using e-cigs to ingest drugs, but that it isn’t necessarily a new trend.

On May 16, Johnson tested positive for methamphetamine and amphetamine. It was his sixth violation but his first violation in a year.

Char said Wednesday that methamphetamine was not Johnson’s “drug of choice” and a HOPE violation report shows no other methamphetamine violations. Johnson had tested positive twice for alcohol use in the past two years.

“Mr. Johnson has way too much to lose to waste it on a couple puffs of a pipe,” Char said. “He’s intelligent enough to know that.”

Johnson was found guilty of abuse of family or household members, criminal property damage in the fourth degree and unauthorized control of a propelled vehicle on June 5, 2014 at bench trial before Fifth Circuit Court Chief Judge Randal Valenciano.

He was sentenced to five years of HOPE probation and nine months in jail.

Char said Johnson has been getting his life together, had a full-time job, was in school part time, was getting certified to be a yoga instructor and had paid his restitution to the victim.

She asked the court to sentence him to credit for time served, which amounted to eight days in jail.

Second deputy Rebecca Vogt said the state concurred with Char’s request for credit for time served “based on his success in the program thus far and the fact that it’s been so long since his last violation.”

Fifth Circuit Judge Watanabe asked Vogt whether the state believed Johnson’s testimony about the e-cigarette.

“Does the state buy the story about the e-cigarette?” Watanabe asked.

“I’m not sure, your honor, but in each of his prior violations, Mr. Johnson has come in and admitted, so this would be the first time he’s hasn’t actually admitted to a violation,” Vogt told the court. “So I guess that would be on Mr. Johnson as to whether he’s being forthright or not. The test results do seem rather low. It’s significant and it’s a positive test, but the state has seen higher test results.”

Watanabe asked Johnson to describe the e-cigarette and whether he was familiar with them. He said he was and apologized to the court.

She asked him if he was maintaining his story.

“I’m not a meth user. I’m not a frequent meth user,” Johnson told the court. “I don’t know. It could have been one of the ways. I don’t know why, ma’am. I’m more confused in this situation than anybody.”

Watanabe was not convinced. She said one her problems with HOPE probationers is determining their honesty with their probation officers and the court.

“I’ve got to tell you Mr. Johnson, I’ve never heard this version before but I’ve heard versions that are more unbelievable than this,” Watanabe said. “You could not imagine the stories that have been told in this court about how people have ingested the drugs. Mr. Johnson, I will honor the agreement that both sides have.”

She sentenced him to time served for the violation of his HOPE probation.

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Michelle Iracheta, cops and courts reporter, can be reached at 245-0424 or miracheta@thegardenisland.com.

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