Category Archives:Drug Cultivation

Police Raid Another Medical Marijuana Producer

Police have raided another medicinal cannabis producer, who gives away her products free to help patients suffering from chronic pain and seizures. On January 4, South Australia police raided the home of Jenny Hallam and seized products and equipment related to the production of cannabis oil.

Ms Hallam is said to have been producing the medicine for two years and been supplying about 200 patients nationwide.

The 44-year-old’s criminal defence lawyer said her client would be appearing in court at a later date.

The lawyer questioned whether Ms Hallam committed a crime, as her client produces the product for people who need it, she doesn’t grow the cannabis she uses to make the oil, and nor does she sell her product.

A spokeswoman for SA police confirmed the home of a 44-year-old woman in the northern Adelaide suburb of Hillier had been raided and said police had seized “a quantity of chemicals and other substances from the address which will be forensically analysed.”

Concerned parents

Since the raid, parents of dozens of sick children have spoken out about the effect it’s going to have on their kids.

Steve Peek from Brisbane has an eight-year-old daughter Suli who relies on medicinal cannabis to control her seizures. He told the ABC that he’d contacted the SA police who told him they had “done the wrong thing but they had no choice because a complaint had been made.”

The police suggested Mr Peek contact the South Australian ombudsman about the matter.

An unlikely advocate

Since the raid, One Nation leader Pauline Hanson has stepped up as an unexpected advocate for medical marijuana. She announced on Sunday that she’d been in contact with prime minister Malcolm Turnbull calling for an amnesty for producers and users of medicinal cannabis.

Ms Hanson declared on her Facebook page that she has been a long-time advocate of the medicine, “due to its effective relief for so many ailments, conventional drugs can’t offer.”

Ms Hanson is not the only conservative politician to have thrown their weight behind legalised medicinal cannabis. A turning point for many was when then-prime minister Tony Abbott supplied a letter supporting medical marijuana for radio presenter Alan Jones to read on air in September 2014.

Legalising medical marijuana

In February last year, federal parliament passed the Narcotic Drugs Amendment Bill 2016 allowing for the legal cultivation, manufacture and distribution of medical marijuana.

Under the new system – which came into effect on October 30 last year – businesses can apply for a licence to grow the plant for medicinal purposes. However, many in the community are asking what current medicinal cannabis patients are meant to do while they wait for the legalised products to be rolled out.

The raid on a Newcastle medicinal cannabis dispensary

Last week’s raid follows a similar incident in December when NSW police raided a medical marijuana dispensary in Newcastle. Two hundred and fifteen plants were seized from a hydroponic operation run by a local group called the Church of Ubuntu.

Co-founder of the church Karen Burge told Sydney Criminal Lawyers at the time that they’d been supplying small plants for cancer patients and parents of children with epilepsy to grow at home.

The church was one of the largest suppliers in the country with 2,000 patients.
Ms Burge added that the authorities were well aware of their two year long operation as they’d contacted premier Mike Baird about it in early 2015.

The Hemp party weighs in

Secretary of the Australian Hemp party Andrew Kavasilas said that the raid on Jenny Hallam’s house was terrible. But he expects the police will continue carrying out operations like these.

“It seems this is a sign of the time. This is obviously going to happen more and more over the next ten to twenty years,” Kavasilas told Sydney Criminal Lawyers. “Because that’s how long medical cannabis will take to get up and going.”

Kavasilas said a situation will arise where more and more courts and police are going to be wasting their time in pursuing medicinal cannabis producers. “You’ll find that courts find no criminal activity, no criminal intent. So by and large, the criminal justice system doesn’t apply to them and they’ll be treated with leniency,” he outlined.

According to Kavasilas there are around 1,000 medical marijuana supply outlets around the country, and more than 100,000 patients using the medicine at the moment. He added that the laws that have been changed and the amendment of the Narcotics Act has done “nothing to address” these patients concerns.

Advocates call for immediate access

Medicinal cannabis advocates in Queensland are calling on the government to legalise the medicine immediately. In October last year, legislation was passed before state parliament that will allow Queensland doctors to prescribe medical marijuana to patients as of March.

But advocates are saying the wait could actually cost lives.

While in NSW, the state government is conducting several medicinal cannabis trials on chemotherapy patients and children with epilepsy. But again, advocates point out that these programs are slowing down access to the products for patients who need them now.

Dr Alex Wodak, president of the Australian Drug Law Reform Foundation, has questioned why certain trials need to be carried out when a 2012 study identified 82 favourable controlled trials had been held around the world, and only nine unfavourable ones.

However, the doctor has also pointed out that there is a need for continued trials into areas that haven’t been thoroughly researched as yet.

The federal government’s medical marijuana adviser

Questions have also been raised over the appointment of doctor Andrew Southcott to the chair of the new Australian Advisory Council on the Medicinal Use of Cannabis. The former Liberal MP has previously said the drug is “not safe.”

In 2011, when Southcott was the opposition’s spokesperson on primary healthcare, he criticised the “normalisation” of the plant, in response to a Food Standards Australia New Zealand review of the use of hemp as food.

Interim measures

The answer to the current medicinal marijuana access problem is interim measures, according to Kavasilas. He believes the government should sit down with advocates like the HEMP party and discuss what measures could be taken now.

Then the government could take these guidelines to the United Nations and explain that this “is what Australia intends to do in the interim while companies materialise and produce these medical cannabis products,” Kavasilas said

“Bearing in mind that years or decades of medical research in the future may just show that conventional raw cannabis products are far superior to pharmaceutical ones,” he concluded.

Queensland Legalises Medical Cannabis

Queensland doctors will be able to prescribe medicinal cannabis to patients from March next year, under new legislation that passed by the state parliament on Wednesday night.

The Public Health (Medicinal Cannabis) Bill 2016 – which passed unanimously – establishes laws described as the most flexible in the country.

Accessing medicinal cannabis

Under the new laws, patients can access cannabis in two ways.

Specialist doctors, such as oncologists and paediatric neurologists can prescribe medical marijuana to patients directly, without the need for additional approval from Queensland Health.

Other doctors, including GPs, will be able to prescribe the medicine with certain conditions after applying to the health department for permission.

“Ground breaking” laws

Queensland health minister Cameron Dick said the bill will change “the paradigm for seriously ill patients” who are currently forced to obtain cannabis products illegally.

The minster said the legislation provides access to “both synthetic and botanically derived” medicinal cannabis.

Mr Dick said patients can access the drugs prior to the enactment of the new laws in March, under changes made to the Health (Drugs and Poisons) Regulation last year.

Currently, one patient in Queensland is legally using medicinal cannabis – a teenager from the Brisbane suburb of Loganholme was given approval earlier this year to treat a brain tumour.

No local supply

However, no medicinal cannabis products are currently produced legally in Queensland, and civil libertarians are calling for a local industry to be established.

Michael Cope, spokesperson for the Queensland Council for Civil Liberties, told the ABC that medical marijuana products are only manufactured in a few overseas countries. He said the products are extremely difficult to obtain and very expensive.

Criticism of the legislation

But some medicinal cannabis advocates are critical of the reforms.

Deb Lynch, secretary of the Medical Cannabis Users Association of Australia (M.C.U.A), told Sydney Criminal Lawyers that while the legislation is a good first step, “it doesn’t go far enough.”

According to Ms Lynch, the application process for doctors who want to prescribe the medicine is so rigorous that few will be approved.

Doctors who apply will have to prove they have a thorough knowledge of medical marijuana treatments. Doctors will also need to be available for follow up visits three months after the initial consultation to provide a report on the patient and the medicine.

This situation will lead to private patients being able to find a doctor who can supply the medication, while public patients will have a lot of difficulty obtaining the drugs.

“They’re just going to drive patients underground again, to either home grow and risk prosecution themselves or to the black market,” Ms Lynch said, adding there needs to be an amnesty for current patients.

The application process also places full responsibility onto doctors for any side effects resulting from cannabis medications.

While Ms Lynch thinks this is a good idea, she questions why the government is specifically isolating cannabis for such stringent regulations and not all pharmaceutical drugs.

Current producers of medical marijuana

And as for those who are illegally producing medicinal marijuana products for patients currently using it, the new legislation could mean an end to business, or worse.

“They could end up in gaol for decades, myself included, because I actually make ointments I send to other scleroderma patients,” said Ms Lynch, who suffers from scleroderma herself. “So I risk going to gaol for 15 to 20 years for helping others.”

Queensland’s medicinal cannabis trials

As of July this year, parents of children with severe drug-resistant epilepsy in Queensland have been able to register for medicinal cannabis trials that are set to begin before the end of the year.

A research team from Lady Cilento Children’s Hospital in Brisbane will lead the trials, which will involve the use of Epidiolex – a liquid form of pure cannabidiol (CBD) – produced by UK-based pharmaceutical company GW Pharmaceuticals.

Ms Lynch questions why the trials are limited to just one form of medicinal cannabis, as “CBD medicines overseas haven’t been as successful as the ones we are getting here now illegally.”

CBD is one of 113 active cannabinoids contained in the cannabis plant, all of which act on receptors in the brain.

Children suffering severe seizures need access to other cannabinoids, such as THCA, CBN and THC, Ms Lynch believes. “They’re seizing and they’re just not stopping,” she said. “It’s the THC that’s actually bringing them out of it.”

Medical marijuana developments around Australia

Marijuana reform is not just isolated to Queensland – it’s been a big year for the plant across Australia.

In February this year, federal parliament passed the Narcotic Drugs Amendment Bill 2016 allowing for the legal cultivation, manufacture and distribution of medical marijuana.

A national regulatory body will be established to oversee the market that will provide medicinal cannabis to patients with a valid prescription.

Both the NSW and Victorian state governments have already begun cultivating cannabis crops.

Victoria was the first state to legalise medicinal cannabis in April.

The Victorian Access to Medicinal Cannabis Act 2016 allows for the manufacture, supply and access to medical marijuana, but it will be restricted to children suffering severe epilepsy for the time being.

The Tasmanian state government announced in April that specialist doctors would be able to prescribe medicinal cannabis to patients with chronic illnesses starting next year.

However on Tuesday, Tasmanian parliament voted down a Greens’ motion to establish a register of medicinal cannabis users who would be quarantined from persecution prior to the establishment of the state’s Controlled Access Scheme.

In NSW, doctors have been able to prescribe medicinal cannabis to patients with a range conditions since August 1.

Under amendments to the Poisons and Therapeutic Goods regulations, patients who have exhausted other standard treatment options for illnesses – such as arthritis, epilepsy and schizophrenia – can access the medicine if they receive approval from a NSW Health panel of experts.

And on August 31, the Therapeutic Goods Administration published their formal decision that legalises the medicinal use of the plant as of November this year.

Cannabis House Goes Up in Smoke

The only thing fire fighters were able to salvage from a house fire that destroyed a home in suburban Moorebank, was a small bag of clothing.

But while fighting the flames, emergency services couldn’t help but notice a sophisticated hydroponic set-up, and the 34-year-old man occupier arrived just as police discovered that three rooms were allegedly being used to grow cannabis.

Reports say the man lived in the house with his partner and two young children, and although no one was home during the blaze, a litter of three puppies tragically lost their lives.

Charges laid

The man was later arrested and charged with cultivating a prohibited plant by enhanced indoor means. He was granted conditional bail and will appear in Liverpool Local Court next month. He may face additional charges of exposing a child to the cultivation of a prohibited plant.

Much of the ‘fruit’ of the man’s alleged efforts has been destroyed by the fire, but if it is alleged that there was more than a small quantity of cannabis plants (5 plants) but not more than a commercial quantity (250 plants), he could face imprisonment of up to 10 years as well as a hefty fine.

If it is alleged to be more than a commercial quantity but less that the large commercial quantity (1000 plants), he faces up to 15 years in prison. And if it is more than a large commercial quantity, the maximum prison term is 20 years.

Although the cause of the fire is yet to be determined, police suspect it was started by an electrical fault caused by the hydroponic set up.

Neighbours’ photos of the blaze show thick plumes of smoke, with one neighbour trying to extinguish the flames using a garden hose.

It is the second Sydney house allegedly containing cannabis crops to go up in flames in as many months.

Police recently raided a property in Peakhurst, in Sydney’s south, seizing approximately 70 cannabis plants with an estimated value of $200,000. A 25-year old man was arrested and charged with cannabis cultivation over that incident.

Several days after charges were laid, the house was severely damaged in a fire which police are treating as ‘suspicious’. Investigators say there was evidence of a flammable liquid being used in a several rooms. Police are determining whether arson charges should be pressed over the fire.

Government’s New Weapon for Locating Drug Labs

The Australian Government has released its annual Illicit Drug Data Report (IDDR) which shows an alarming spike in the number of drug hauls and arrests, as well as drug use in a number of categories.

Drug seizures are up more than 13% and drug arrests are up almost 20% on figures from last year.

But while cannabis remained the most frequently confiscated drug in Australia, the number of heroin-related arrests fell to their lowest level in a decade.

Numbers from around the nation

The report shows that the highest number of arrests were for cannabis at 56.1%. In second place were amphetamine-type stimulates (ATS) particularly ‘ice’, at 26.5%.

South Australia had the highest proportion of arrests related to cannabis at 85.4%.

In Victoria, the proportion of ATS arrests was higher than any other state at more than 37%, and Victoria also recorded the highest proportion of heroin and other opioids at 4.8 %.

New South Wales recorded the highest percentage of cocaine arrests at 3.8%, while in Western Australia, 23.7% of drug arrests were related to “other and unknown” drugs.

Overall drug arrests have increased significantly over the past decade.

Justice Minister Michael Keenan said the numbers equated to 290 seizures and 367 arrests per day.

The report is released by the Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission (ACIC). It is compiled from law enforcement data, and is said provide a “clear snapshot of illegal drug use and supply in Australia” in order to help guide resources and funding aimed at combating the issue.

Waste water testing – the government’s new weapon

This year for the first time, the report incorporated data extracted from waste water analysis, (sewerage testing) which showed that ice use in the community has increased significantly since 2010.

Minister Keenan claims waste water testing will help police to locate illegal clandestine laboratories, and “will help us identify which drugs are being supplied and which drugs are increasing or decreasing in usage.”

Mr Keenan pointed out that the ice taskforce recommends greater use of waste water testing. In the past, drug users themselves were the main source of information about the prevalence and location of drug labs. But wastewater testing suggests that such data is wildly inaccurate, with usage dramatically under-reported, which is no surprise given that drug possession is still a crime in Australia.

Indeed, the waste water data supports what drug reform experts have suspected – that methamphetamine use is on the rise.

Professor Jason White of the University of South Australia, a state where a lot of the waste water testing has been conducted, estimates there has been a greater than three-fold increase in the use of methamphetamines over the past five years.

The government recently announced that it will invest an extra $3.6 million towards waste water testing, hoping to localise testing to such an extent that the location of labs will be easier to determine.

Australia an ‘attractive market’ for drug suppliers

ACIC says that because Australia is isolated, it is an attractive market for drug enterprises.

It believes organised crime and transnational crime groups continue to be the main players in the market.

Decriminalisation not on the agenda

Mr Keenan said that despite the prevalence of drug use in Australia, and the success of decriminalisation in some other countries, moving away from a punitive approach towards drug use is not on the agenda here. He added that neither are tougher penalties for drug offences.

Keenan said he believes there is a need to continue to educate Australians on the detrimental effect drug use on their physical and mental wellbeing.

In line with that strategy, Federal Government made its most significant investment ever in drug and alcohol rehabilitation in Australia’s history last year.

Keenan said he is hopeful that over time, “that multi-faceted approach will pay dividends.”

Help Police, Dad’s Burning My Marijuana!

Every now and then, police come across something so strange they’re left scratching their heads.

One such incident occurred recently in the Northern Territory, when Humpty Doo police received a call from a young man enraged that his father had burned his cannabis plants.

Apparently, the son had been fighting with his father since he moved to Humpty Doo (about 40km south of Darwin) from interstate a short time ago.

According to police, the son was “indignant and enraged” and felt it was “wrong” of his father to have burnt the plants. Officers arrived at the scene and questioned the son about whether he knew possessing of cannabis is illegal, and he could be sent to court.

However, the son felt his father’s destruction of the plants was a far worse crime.

As all of the plants had been destroyed by the fire, police decided not to lay any charges over the incident. Nevertheless, the officers took to social media, publishing a full account of the story.

Northern Territory

In the Northern Territory, the possession of small amounts of cannabis is decriminalised – which means police can issue a fine rather than sending a person to court to be dealt with under the criminal law.

In 1996, the NT decriminalised the possession of up to 50 grams of marijuana, one gram of hashish oil, 10 grams of cannabis seed, and two non-hydroponic plants.

New South Wales

Cannabis has not been decriminalised in NSW, but a cannabis cautioning scheme has been in place since the year 2000, which allows police to issue a caution for possession of less than 15 grams of cannabis rather than sending a person to court.

This scheme was implemented in response to recommendations by the NSW Drug Summit in 2000.

A review of the scheme in 2011 found it been effective in reducing reoffending by diverting people away from the criminal justice system.

Cultivation – Growing Cannabis in NSW

Under section 23 of the Drug Misuse and Trafficking Act, it is illegal to grow cannabis plants in NSW.

Cultivating outdoors is sowing or scattering the seeds, planting, growing, tending, nurturing and harvesting the plant. Cultivating by indoor means it occurs within a building or structure. This may involve the nurture of the plant in nutrient-enriched water (with or without mechanical support), or the application of an artificial source of light or heat, or suspending the plant’s roots and spraying them with nutrient solution.
You don’t need to be the sole cultivator to be guilty of the offence.

Penalties for Cannabis Cultivation

The penalties depend on the amount – the greater the amount, the more serious the penalty could be.

Here is a table containing the applicable maximum penalties:

If you are charged with cannabis cultivation, it is a good idea to seek advice from a specialist criminal lawyer who is experienced in dealing with drug charges.

Growing Pot Is No Way to Get Rich

Brendon Scorey has learned the hard way that there is truth to the old adage: crime does not pay.

The Cairns District Court has heard how 22-year-old Mr Scorey had no criminal record, but was broke and looking for work when he discovered a group of people planning to grow cannabis for profit. Mr Scorey was told he would earn between $10,000 and $100,000 for his role in the venture.

Instead, all he got from a year’s involvement was $5,000, a criminal record, and a suspended prison sentence.

Dollar signs in his eyes, Mr Scorey ignored the early signs that his investment was not working. Scorey and another man worked hard clearing land, setting up an irrigation system and creating garden beds. After a year trying to grow cannabis, most of the crop had been destroyed by wild pigs, rats, and the weather. Scorey was left for long stretches of time to mind the crop on his own.

For all his efforts, Scorey said he only cultivated about 2.7kg of cannabis and ended up with about $5,000.

Despite his earnings being well below the minimum wage, Mr Scorey foolishly tried his luck again, devising a new plan to grow more cannabis.

The court was told how police became involved when a man who was minding the new crop took his own life.

Mr Scorey’s criminal defence lawyer told the court that his client was young, down on his luck, and had turned his life around since the hapless venture.

He was given a three year suspended prison sentence; any breach of which will likely see him behind bars.

The Real Costs of Growing Cannabis

In Colorado, where it is legal to sell and use cannabis for recreational purposes, there are some very sophisticated harvesters who are able to sell approximately 600 pounds a year.

One grower based in Colorado says that since legalisation, ounces are selling for around 125 to 150 US Dollars. Selling 600 pounds a year would bring in $1,440,000, which seems impressive, until you factor in that he spends a third of his profits growing and prepping the cannabis for sale and has 15 employees to pay.

Down the other end of the production chain, people aren’t seeing this kind of money.

Obviously in Australia, despite the difficulties, some people have been able to make substantial profits growing and selling cannabis illegally. The increased profits are balanced with the increased risks of being ripped-off or dobbed-in by the people you’re working with, violence, receiving a criminal record, and being sent to prison.

But now that Australia is looking to make medical cannabis available to those with a prescription, we are likely to see the farming of crops become more mainstream and competitive here as well.

The Wall Street Journal describes the situation in Denver, where medicinal cannabis is grown and sold legally:

“Trying to make a profit in this business is harder than expected. When grown and sold legally, marijuana can be an expensive proposition, with high startup costs, a host of operational headaches and state regulations that a beet farmer could never imagine.”

Confluence Denver reports that the extremely high energy costs of growing cannabis are a killer for both profits and the environment:

“Now that it’s legal and grow houses have, well, grown to meet demand, it’s also had an impact on the electric grid. ‘There have been situations where we’ve had to upgrade transformers,’ says Xcel Energy spokesperson Gabriel Romero. The utility has also had to upgrade the power lines going into the grow houses when they weren’t equipped for the higher voltage.

“Those changes are paid for by the warehouse owner,” says Romero. “Those things are pretty expensive startup fees.” It can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars to upgrade the electric equipment in some situations.”

When the Wall Street Journal asked veteran cannabis farmer, Elliott Klug, about the secret to making a profit in the cultivation of cannabis, he said: “Start with lots of money.”

Perhaps the old joke about vineyards is equally applicable to cannabis farms:

“Know how to make a million dollars in a vineyard? Start with 5 million”.

The Holiday Home from Hell

It was supposed to be a relaxing summer holiday on the Gold Coast – but family man Dieter Winkler, his wife and their five children were shocked to discover that the Burleigh Heads cottage they had rented was a drug den.

The family were preparing to enjoy a barbecue when 10 armed police officers smashed down the door and raided the property. After being interrogated for five hours and having their possessions ‘ramsacked,’ the Winklers were stunned to discover the secret behind a locked room – which a female owner had told them was ‘off-limits’ due to an electrical fault.

The room, which was located next to the bedroom shared by his five children – housed eight cannabis plants in an extensive hydroponic set up. Authorities described the room as a ‘fire waiting to happen’ due to dodgy electrical wiring which fed lights 24 hours a day.

According to Mr Winkler, police claimed to be unaware that the property was being rented out to holidaymakers; which raises questions about the quality of intelligence checking, investigation and surveillance techniques.

Mr Winkler said his family were treated like criminals, with his children – the youngest aged 9 – and 72-year-old mother, witnessing the terrifying raid.

Police have used the incident to highlight the risks of renting properties from unknown owners, with a police spokesperson stating that ‘people need to understand that you don’t know who the homeowner is, or if you’re renting a room who you could be staying with.’

The holiday rental company AirBnB agreed to reimburse the Winklers the $1800 paid for rental– as well as $2,600 spent to secure alternative last minute accommodation elsewhere.

But the experience ruined the family’s first get together in two years, with Mr Winkler describing it as ‘the worst holiday’ and vowing to never use Airbnb again.

Homeowners Fall Victim to Drug Cultivating Tenants

On the flip side, a Victorian man found his investment property trashed and abandoned by drug cultivators late last year.

29-year-old Trent Lister purchased the Geelong property with his mother and partner, but upon returning to conduct a routine inspection in August, discovered that the previous tenants had rewired electrical circuits, removed cupboards and fixtures, and cut holes in walls, floors and the roof. Doors had been ripped out to make way for plants, and water had been redirected around the house.

The occupants had then absconded, leaving Mr Lister to pay thousands of dollars for the damage cause. He says that his family may face bankruptcy due to the high cost of repairs.

Mr Lister says that he conducted all necessary background checks prior to renting the property – he had met with the tenants, obtained copies of their driver licences and details of their previous rental history. But the licences and rental history turned out to be false.

While taking taken DNA samples from the house, police advised Mr Lister that they are unlikely to catch the culprits.

Knowing the Law

Residents and homeowners who use property to produce, supply or cultivate commercial quantities of illicit drugs can face heavy penalties under the law.

Properties used to manufacture or cultivate drugs fall within the definition of ‘drug premises’ under the Drug Misuse and Trafficking Act 1985.

Apart from the presence of drugs, a court can look at the following factors when deciding whether a particular property is a ‘drug premises’:

  • The fact that a police officer who was authorised to enter the premises was prevented or obstructed from doing so;
  • Evidence of doors being fitted with bolts, bars, chains or other devices to obstruct entry;
  • Evidence of a person acting as a lookout to warn persons of police officers or other persons;
  • Evidence of syringes or other devices used for the supply, manufacture or use of a prohibited drug;
  • Evidence of unlawful firearms or prohibited weapons;
  • Evidence of large amounts of money that cannot be accounted for by the owner or occupier;
  • Evidence of persons on the premises being affected by drugs;
  • Evidence of drug cultivation equipment such as high powered lights, fluorescent lights, light units and growing chambers;
  • Fans and vents installed in unusual spots;
  • Evidence of high electricity consumption;
  • Evidence that electricity is being sourced from an illegal source;\Evidence of prohibited plants or seeds being found on the premises.

Property owners who knowingly allow another to use their property as ‘drug premises’ face a maximum penalty of 12 months imprisonment and/or a fine of $5,500 under section 36Y of the Act. For a second or subsequent offence, the penalty increases to 5 years imprisonment and/or a fine of $55,000.

Organising, conducting or assisting with the organisation of drug premises is an offence which carries the same penalties. A person can be found guilty of this offence there is sufficient evidence to show that they acted as a lookout, guard, or door attendant at the premises.

Even simply entering or being on premises which you know are being used as drug premises can result in these heavy penalties, unless you are able to establish that you were on, or entering or leaving the premises, for a lawful purpose or with a lawful excuse.

Australia’s First Legal Marijuana Plantation is on Its Way

Christmas Island is best known as home to one of Australia’s many detention centres – but it could soon be the site of Australia’s first medicinal cannabis plantation.

Australian company AusCann announced this week that it is close to an agreement with the Island’s 2000-strong population to plant a ‘trial crop,’ with seeds likely to be sown in late 2016.

The first batch of plants is likely to include five different varieties of cannabis, which have been sourced from Spanish company Phytoplant Research, with which it has established an exclusive partnership.

The move follows a recent Federal Government announcement that certain groups will be granted special permits to grow plants for medicinal and scientific purposes.

The company also announced plans to list on the ASX early next year, after raising $3 million. The funds will be used to continue research and development on the Christmas Island plantation.

AusCann’s managing director Elaine Darby told the media that Christmas Island had been chosen because of its unique environment, which makes it ideal for cannabis growth:

‘We have carefully selected Christmas Island for its isolation, climate and security…In particular, we note that the amount of available daylight hours is critical to triggering cannabis plant flowering. Christmas Island experiences minimal changes to its daylight hours, so it is feasible that we could produce two crops each year.’

According to Ms Darby, their plan has full support from the locals, who will benefit from the employment opportunities and economic value of the venture.

Tasmania is also being eyed off as a potential site for a plantation, with the NSW government entering into a partnership with the State to enable it to grow cannabis for medicinal marijuana trials. The State has previously had great success in growing poppy crops for the production of medical opioids.

On Thursday, NSW Premier Mike Baird and Tasmanian Premier Will Hodgman signed a Memorandum of Understanding outlining the partnership between the two states.

However, the location of any proposed plantations and the size of the crops is yet to be decided.

About AusCann

AusCann states that it ‘seeks to become a licensed producer supplying the global industry and local markets when legislation permits in Australian and other jurisdictions.’

It claims to be Australia’s leading group in the global medicinal cannabis sector.

It is headed by Dr Mal Washer, a former House of Representatives Liberal MP who practised as a doctor before entering politics. He previously chaired the Alcohol and Other Drug Council of Australia, and been a vocal advocate for medicinal cannabis.

The company seeks to capitalise on the benefits of cannabis in treating chronic pain and a range of illnesses, including multiple sclerosis, arthritis, and childhood epilepsy.

Company’s Plans Clinical Trials

AusCann’s initiative will be complemented by several Australian trials, which aim to explore the therapeutic benefits of cannabis. These include a series of trials set to begin in 2016 to determine the effectiveness of using cannabis to treat childhood epilepsy.

Currently, parents of children who suffer from chronic illnesses are forced to break the law to obtain cannabis-based treatments – meaning they could face criminal charges for drug possession, or supplying an illicit drug to a minor.

Earlier this year, Queensland father Adam Koessler was charged with both offences after he gave his daughter Rumer cannabis oil while she was in hospital being treated for a serious form of cancer. He was also prohibited from seeing his daughter, and is now only allowed to see her if a doctor is also in attendance.

Desperate parents such as Adam – together with those who suffer from serious illnesses – hope that the initiatives of companies like AusCann are a positive indication of things to come.

Illegally Obtained Evidence Ruled Admissible in Drug Trial

A person’s home may be their castle, but this doesn’t always mean it’s safe from the prying eyes of the law. While courts will often exclude improperly or illegally obtained evidence, this is not always the case.

Police Officer Finds Drugs after Wandering Outside Search Area

Mark Gallagher and Lynne Maree Burridge lived in neighbouring rural properties in NSW. In March 2012, police obtained a warrant to conduct a firearms audit at Gallagher’s house.

The warrant was in relation to a man named Paul Thompson, who was in the process of selling the house to Gallagher.

But when a police officer arrived, he couldn’t see anyone around the house. He thought he saw movement near a dam, which was about 50 metres away, so he began walking in that direction but in doing so trespassed onto Burridge’s neighbouring property.

When the officer got to the dam, he didn’t see or hear anyone. He then started walking back to the car via a pathway running alongside the dam, when he caught sight of a plastic irrigation pipe and went to investigate. He then came across a caged area on Burridge’s property containing over 150 cannabis plants, along with bags of cannabis leaf and seed.

The officer then returned to his car – but he had already overstepped his lawful authority by trespassing onto Burridge’s property.

As you can imagine, an investigation and drug charges quickly followed. The cannabis plants were on the property of Burridge but Gallagher had allegedly established and maintained the cultivation, so both were facing drug cultivation charges.

The central issue was whether the fact that the police officer trespassed onto Burridge’s property – where the drugs were found – was enough for the evidence of drugs to be excluded from court.

This was vital to the defence of Gallagher and Burridge, because courts can refuse illegally or improperly obtained evidence from the courtroom.

At trial, the Judge excluded the evidence on the basis that the search was unlawful, as the police officer was trespassing when he discovered the cannabis plants.

Without this crucial evidence, it was all over for the prosecution, so they appealed to the NSW Court of Criminal Appeal (NSWCCA).

Unfortunately for Gallagher and Burridge, the NSWCCA did not come to the same conclusion as the trial Judge. The three Justices agreed that the search was illegal, but found that the evidence should have been allowed before the jury anyway.

Admissibility of Improperly Obtained Evidence

Under section 138 of the Evidence Act, illegally or improperly obtained evidence cannot be used in court unless “the desirability of admitting the evidence outweighs the undesirability of admitting evidence that has been obtained in the way in which the evidence was obtained.”

In deciding whether or not to admit evidence, the court must take into account:

  • The probative value of the evidence;
  • The importance of the evidence;
  • The nature of the relevant offence;
  • The gravity of the impropriety or contravention;
  • Whether the impropriety was deliberate or reckless;
  • Whether the impropriety or contravention was deliberate or reckless;
  • Whether any other proceeding has been or is likely to be taken in relation to the impropriety or contravention (such as internal discipline against a police officer); and
  • The difficulty of obtaining the evidence without impropriety or contravention of an Australian law.

The NSWCCA found that the contravention of the police officer was accidental and careless rather than intentional, and that the desirability of admitting the evidence outweighed the undesirability of allowing evidence obtained in that way.

The prosecution’s appeal was allowed on that basis, and Gallagher and Burridge must once again face trial – but, this time, the evidence of the cannabis will be admitted before the jury.

When Will Courts Exclude Illegal Evidence?

The best chance of excluding evidence is if the offence is relatively trivial – for example, drug possession or small drug supply – and the illegality is substantial or deliberate. Part of the rationale of excluding illegally or improperly obtained evidence is to take away any incentive for police to act out of line. Ensuring that this kind of evidence cannot be used is therefore intended to deter police from collecting it improperly or illegally in the first place.

If you are facing drug charges, getting help from experienced lawyers who specialises in drug cases will give you the highest chance of having the charges against you dropped or thrown out of court if you wish to plead not guilty, or achieving the most lenient outcome if you wish to plead guilty.

Cannabis Cultivation: An Opportunity for Battling Aussie Farmers?

It’s a tough time for many Aussie farmers: with lands plagued by drought, tough international competition and ongoing price wars between supermarket giants Coles and Woolworths.

But the possibiityof new enterprise has given some farmers fresh hope.

Last week, the Federal Government announced that it would legalise the cutivation of medicinal cannabis; allowing farmers to sow and harvest the hardy crop to aid Australians suffering from chronic health problems.

The proposed scheme

The proposal would involve amending the Commonwealth Narcotic Drugs Act 1967 to allow for the cultivation of cannabis for scientific and medicinal purposes.

Prospective growers would be required to comply with a licensing scheme to ensure that the product and systems meet legal requirements.

The plan has been likened to a current scheme which allows Tasmanian farmers to grow poppies to produce morphine – an industry which generates around $100 million annually for local farmers.

Tasmanian Premier Will Hodgman has welcomed the opportunity, saying: ‘We look forward to working with the Federal Government on opportunities for growing medicinal cannabis in Tasmania.’

Health Minister Susan Ley has also welcomed the proposal, saying that the amendments will help those suffering from dehabilitating health conditions. She believes ‘it is important…that we put in place what we know will support a safe, legal and sustainable supply of a product.’

Those who grow cannabis without a valid licence will still face drug charges: in NSW, drug cultivation carries a range of heavy penalties depending on the amount and type of drug cultivated, and the court that the case is heard in.

Farmers express doubts

But some Tasmanian farmers have expressed reservations about the new venture, saying that those who have grown medicinal cannabis overseas maintained small crops of between three and five hectares, and that there is little financial incentive to grow the plant here.

Chief Executive of the Tasmanian Farmers and Graziers Association, Peter Skillern, told the media that ‘growing medicinal cannabis is not going to produce a new agricultural product for Tasmania, or Australian farmers for that matter.’

He feels it is unlikely that medicinal marijuana will be used widely enough to require more than one crop. He says that the opportunities for farmers will be further limited by the fact that government scientists and lab technicians are also allowed to grow the plant.

Mr Skillern’s views appear to be supported by Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews’ recent announcement that his government would begin a ‘cannabis cultivation trial’.

Parents may no longer need to break the law

Mr Andrews previously voiced concerns about parents being forced to break the law to source cannabis medications for their children – many of whom are suffering serious illnesses such as cancer and severe epilepsy, and who have shown remarkable improvement whilst using the drug.

Those concerns followed the publication of a report by the Victorian Law Reform Commission, which put forth a series of recommendations about how the current legal and regulatory hurdles could be overcome.

But while an earlier report considered the potential for state-controlled cultivation, the more recent report explored the potential for farmers to apply for a cannabis-growing licence from the Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning.

The need for greater access

While many have welcomed the announcements, others say that more needs to be done to improve access to medicinal cannabis.

Among them is Greens Senator Richard de Natale, who says that the cannabis licensing proposal ‘ignores the most important part of the equation and that is making sure that people who need this drug can get access to it.’

He believes that there is a ‘bottleneck in the approval of medicinal cannabis and this legislation does nothing to address that.’

And some parents are concerned that the announcement is a case of too little, too late.

One Tasmanian mother says that her child may have to wait for years to access a legal form of the cannabis tincture that she currently uses illegally to treat epilepsy.

But others disagree: Tasmanian Health Minister Michael Ferguson says that the matter of cannabis cultivation was the most important missing element in the move towards legalisation for medicinal purposes, and is a giant leap forward.

And the Australian Medical Association has emphasised the need to conduct thorough trials before medicinal cannabis hits the shelves.