Santa Cruz home-brewer gets drug diversion for making poppy beer
Jennifer Squires - Sentinel Staff Writer
Article Launched: 10/25/2008 01:33:58 AM PDT
A UC Santa Cruz graduate student accused of manufacturing opium when he made home-brewed poppy beer pleaded no contest to possessing heroin and was sentenced Friday to drug diversion.
So long as Chad Renzelman, 28, stays out of trouble for the next 18 months, the drug conviction will be taken off his record, according to his attorney, Ben Rice of Santa Cruz.
"I'm not going to jeopardize anything by breaking the law again," Renzelman said.
Renzelman, a graduate student in organic chemistry, said he used "a handful" of dried poppy pods purchased on eBay to flavor a batch of home brew in August. He used a chemical process to extract opium from poppy plant pods, then converted the opium to morphine. He said he didn't know what he was doing was illegal.
Renzelman was arrested Sept. 19 at his Santa Cruz home on suspicion of manufacturing and possessing opiates. Police said they found morphine-laced beer in the garage of his house on Bay Street. "I made beer for home consumption," Renzelman said. "It's not like I was trying to peddle heroin on the streets."
Police said all along they suspected the poppies were being used in beer production, but that's still illegal. Officers were tipped off when a city recycling crew saw poppy pods in Renzelman's trash.
He had faced seven years in state prison. "It was an appropriate resolution," Rice said, praising the way the District Attorney's Office handled the case.
"They could have pressed on and it would have been a waste of everyone's resources." As part of his sentence, Renzelman will have to pay for soil testing near his backyard compost pile -- where he dumped the spent grain from the poppy beer -- to make sure the area wasn't contaminated. He will also have to attend a drug class.
"Everything turned out I guess for the better except for the thousands of dollars it cost me for brewing five gallons of beer," Renzelman said. "You start home brewing to attempt to reduce your beer costs not increase it exponentially."
Renzelman said Friday he plans to get back to brewing beer as soon as police return the equipment they confiscated from his garage. Prior to his arrest, Renzelman and his friends had brewed a different flavor of beer, such as chocolate mint stout, every weekend.
"I made whole bunch of beer and experimented with a lot of different additives," Renzelman said.
During the Sept. 19 raid -- when Renzelman was arrested -- police also took about 40 gallons of homemade beer that wasn't the poppy brew, and Renzelman said he needs to start replenishing that supply. However, poppy beer is off the brew list. His first batch will be a smoked habanero lager.
"It will be nice to start brewing again," Renzelman said. "Hopefully we won't get raided anymore for brewing it."