Freshman, Non-student Face Felony Drug Charges

Western Carolina University freshman Joshua Curtis Balentine, 19, and non-student Aaron James Malay, 20, were arrested January 25 on drug charges related to a hydroponics garden and several marijuana plants found in their closet on the 3rd floor of Benton. Both were charged with possession of marijuana, manufacturing marijuana, maintaining the dwelling for the purpose of manufacturing marijuana, and possession of drug paraphernalia. Malay was also charged with concealing a weapon on campus, and Balentine with providing false information to officers. Bond was set at $8,000 for Malay and $6,000 for Balentine. Both were released on bond and made their first court appearance February 12. Malay and Balentine could face two or more years in prison, since manufacturing marijuana and maintaining the dwelling for the purpose of manufacturing marijuana are both felonies.Officers discovered the hydroponics garden and marijuana while conducting a planned drug investigation. Malay, who was living in the residence hall without authorization, and Balentine began regurgitating during the investigation and were transported to Harris Regional Hospital for treatment prior to being arrested. According to Gene McAbee, director of Public Safety, both became sick off of dextromethorphan, a cough suppressant, which they ordered over the Internet. Dextromethorphan has properties similar to narcotics, particularly morphine, said Dr. Jeffrey Davis, a physician for WCU Health Services. “A pure or high dosage has a narcotic type effect,” said Davis. “The dextromethorphan Malay and Balentine got off the Net was in a powder, pre-mixed form.” Davis said needlessly using dextromethorphan is highly dangerous. “The side effects are far worse than the high you get from the drug,” said Davis. Officers traced the over-the-counter medication to a male student living in Reynolds, with whom they also found several vials of steroids. The student was charged with possession of steroids and possession of drug paraphernalia. He was released without bond, since both charges are misdemeanors, but was banned from the residence halls. A female, who no longer attends Western and is connected to Malay and Balentine, was banned from campus, according to McAbee. No criminal charges were filed. Three separate drug arrests from three different investigations were made between 8:00 p.m. on Jan. 25 and 12:34 a.m. on Jan. 27. All three drug investigations were not connected, but were not random either, according to McAbee. “We were following up on prior drug information we had received the previous weeks or months,” said McAbee.