Activist gets off cannabis charges

SALLY KIDSON
Last updated 13:00 28/03/2012
Victoria Davis
PATRICK HAMILTON/Fairfax NZ
COMPELLED TO HELP: Victoria Davis of Golden Bay was discharged without conviction at Nelson District Court for growing cannabis to treat husband John's phantom pain.

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A Golden Bay activist caught growing 62 cannabis plants to help her husband relieve the phantom pain he suffers following a double amputation, has succeeded in getting the charges thrown out.

Victoria Davis was yesterday discharged without conviction by Judge Tony Zohrab in the Nelson District Court on charges of cultivating cannabis and possessing cannabis. She was ordered instead to pay $300 to a Nelson alcohol and drug clinic.

Speaking outside court yesterday, a relieved Mrs Davis said the last few months had "been extremely stressful".

Mrs Davis, 61, is an environmentalist and cycle advocate, former Tasman mayoral candidate and was Golden Bay's sole radiographer for 22 years.

She said she only grew the drug to help her husband's suffering and the side affects of conventionally prescribed pain relief were "horrendous".

She was upset she had been made to go to court, believing she should have been given police diversion as a first-time offender. Police had not supported that as they "unfairly" saw the offence as too serious, she said.

"Being described as a serious criminal offender by the police was a shock to me."

Her husband John Davis, who is known as Buzz, had part of both his legs amputated following complications of a quadruple heart bypass two years ago.

He said his phantom pain – pain which comes from the area of the amputated limbs – included tickling, itching, as well cramps and pain. It was distressing and left him unable to sleep.

"I couldn't for the life of me find any medication that would take care of it."

The court heard yesterday his wife was caught in January with 62 cannabis plants of various sizes at their property in Tukurua, Golden Bay.

Twenty of the plants were seedlings and the other 42 plants ranged in size from 25cm to 1.2m. Eight grams of dried cannabis was found inside the house.

Mrs Davis told police it was the first time she had grown the drug and it was the only drug effective in treating her husband's pain. There was no suggestion the cannabis was being grown commercially.

Judge Zohrab said he had a letter from Golden Bay doctor Vic Eastman confirming Mr Davis' situation and that cannabis could be helpful.

Judge Zohrab said deciding to discharge someone without conviction was a balancing act and he had to decide whether the consequences of a conviction would outweigh the gravity of the offence.

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"When I consider the evidence of your husband's situation and take into account your lack of prior history and your early guilty plea ... in my view a conviction would be out of proportion to the offending."

The couple had family in the United States and there were concerns that a conviction might jeopardise their ability to visit them.

Judge Zohrab said he did not believe he was setting a precedent with his decision yesterday as the facts of the case were special and spoke for themselves.

Mrs Davis said she was totally opposed to any young person taking any drugs or drinking alcohol, but she had felt compelled to help her husband.

"It's all about not seeing human beings suffer."

They had decided to grow the drug, not buy it, as it was "quite pricey".

She had such a large number of plants, because as a gardener she thought some would die or be eaten by possums or birds. If the plants were successful she would not need to grow any next year.

Aotearoa Legalise Cannabis Party spokesman Steven Wilkinson, of Golden Bay, said yesterday's result was a good one as it was obvious in this case that cultivation of the drug had been for medicinal purposes.

"I think it's great that the judges are starting to realise the cannabis cases coming through are not all serious and are clogging up the court and wasting judicial time."

New Zealand was behind the rest of the world when it came to the use of cannabis for medicinal purposes. The drug was legal in 16 US states for medicinal purposes. Dr Eastman said he had anecdotal evidence from a number of patients that cannabis was good for pain-related cases including Mr Davis' phantom limb problem.

He said he supported the use of cannabis for medicinal purposes and felt it would eventually become legal, but doubted this would happen for some time. There were a lot of issues that needed to be grappled with first.

The fact cannabis was illegal was preventing useful research into the drug's medicinal qualities taking place.

However, simply making the drug legal for medicinal purposes would not necessarily solve the problem as people might be unlikely to pay to go to the doctor to buy the drug, when it was cheaper to buy it on the street, he said.

He said the police were caught up in the situation as they had to police the law and "when the law is an ass they look like the same".

- The Nelson Mail

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