Ridin' High Owner Gets Probation for Federal Pot Charge | Off Message

Ridin' High Owner Gets Probation for Federal Pot Charge


Ridin' High skate shop - FILE: MATTHEW ROY
  • File: Matthew Roy
  • Ridin' High skate shop
“Big John” will do little time.

John Van Hazinga, the 42-year-old owner of the Ridin’ High skate shop in Burlington, was sentenced on Friday to five years federal probation after pleading guilty to a single felony count of distributing marijuana.

Van Hazinga must also turn over about $67,000 in seized drug proceeds and will be required to amend his tax returns to account for his ill-gotten gains.

Reached by phone Friday, Van Hazinga said he was “very happy” with the sentence. He’s joined Alcoholics Anonymous, is seeing mental health and drug counselors, and has given up weed, drugs and alcohol.

“I wish we had Bernie Sanders really running for the presidency, because then the whole attack on me would be reduced,” Van Hazinga said. “But, you know, we all gotta do what we gotta do. My lungs are so much better without me smoking so much.”

Van Hazinga was arrested last August after local police and federal agents raided his colorful shop at Pearl and Battery streets, his Underhill home, and a rural camp he owns in Keene, N.Y.

Those searches turned up tens of thousands of dollars in cash, quantities of weed, pot plants, a jar of hallucinogenic mushrooms and digital scales. His partner, Samantha Steady, was also arrested and federally charged. She's also been sentenced to probation, but for a shorter period, Van Hazinga said.
The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration and the Burlington Police Department began an investigation into Van Hazinga in the summer of 2018, after reports that he was dealing weed to teenagers. Undercover cops eventually conducted controlled buys at the shop, which is within sight of the Burlington police headquarters.

The feds allege Van Hazinga had been selling marijuana from the store since at least 2004. He got state court convictions in 2009, 2013 and 2015 for pot possession and sale.

Van Hazinga had been awaiting sentencing at the Northwest State Correctional Facility in St. Albans, where a COVID-19 outbreak erupted April 1. His attorney argued successfully that Van Hazinga’s underlying respiratory issues stemming from a near-fatal skateboarding crash in 2007 made him especially vulnerable to the disease. A state parole board approved his release April 21.
In the meantime, Van Hazinga said, he’s been working at his shop. Ridin' High recently hosted live music on its rooftop. The building is still festooned with a large mural reading, “Free Big John.”

Van Hazinga said it’s time to paint over the image — though he hasn’t settled yet on a new message.

“Maybe, ‘Skate With Big John,’” he said.

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