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Natrona fire hall pot suspect held for trial

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Thursday, March 20, 2014, 1:16 a.m.

A Harrison man was ordered Wednesday to stand trial for allegedly having an elaborate marijuana growing operation in the former Natrona fire hall.

James Joseph Kubla, 35, of River Road is facing four drug charges, including felony drug manufacturing. Harrison police discovered the hydroponic growing system in January.

At his preliminary hearing on Wednesday, Kubla pleaded not guilty.

Police allege they smelled marijuana on Jan. 19 when responding to a fight between Kubla and a girlfriend in his residence, which is next door to the former fire hall.

Assistant District Attorney Robert Heister said Kubla owns the building at 65 River Road, and it's reasonable to believe he used the greenhouse system.

Police say they subsequently found a watering and nutrient-feeding operation they believe was designed to produce high-potency marijuana.

Included was a 425-gallon plastic water tanker, two 55-gallon aluminum cylinders, about 150 fence posts that police say he used to stake the marijuana plants, eight 16-inch PVC pipes with built-in irrigation systems and 10 haloid growing lamps.

In 2007, West Leechburg police charged Kubla with having about 300 hydroponically-grown, mature marijuana plants and about 200 smaller plants and seedlings throughout his house.

He was sentenced to intermediate punishment for two years with nine months of electronic monitoring for growing marijuana.

Harrison Officer Joshua Acre testified Wednesday that police found about 2 ounces of dried marijuana leaves and buds and an ounce or less of apparently older marijuana in a sandwich bag.

Acre and two other officers testified Wednesday that marijuana leaves were found on all three floors of the building.

Under cross-examination by Kubla's attorney, Patrick Nightingale, police could not say how long the marijuana leaves and growing apparatus had been there.

Nightingale argued that although police found a sophisticated growing system, it could be used to grow vegetables or any other plants.

“Did you find tomato seeds or packets or a seed catalog?” Heister, the prosecutor, asked Acre in response. Acre said no.

“It was January,” Nightingale said. “You wouldn't find anything like that then.”

He also argued that while Kubla owns the building, police don't have a direct link between the leaves and grow system to Kubla.

“They can't say the last time he was in the building or if he leased it to someone else,” he told District Judge Carolyn Bengel.

Bengel held all four charges for court.

Before the hearing, Kubla was briefly handcuffed for not paying two outstanding parking tickets and not attending hearings for the tickets. He was freed after paying about $450 in fines and court costs.

Kubla is also separately accused of hitting his girlfriend, with whom he has a child. On Wednesday, he agreed to take part in court-ordered counseling.

The woman attended the hearing to support Kubla.

Kubla remains free on a non-monetary bond pending trial.

Chuck Biedka is a staff writer for Trib Total Media.

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