Man grows dope to pay legal bills
LISMORE photographer and hotel manager Kristen Gardner had 132kg of cannabis bagged and ready for market after harvesting his crop.
He intended to raise funds to pay for legal fees needed by his family in Queensland after their arrest on drug offences involving over three tonnes of cannabis.
His good intentions came a cropper when police raided the remote plot not long after dawn on Anzac Day last year.
Gardner, 34, a former manager at the Winsome Hotel and raised in Murwillumbah, said he was told the legal costs for his family would be as much as $700,000, and this was why he grew 900 cannabis plants in remote bushland at Lionsville, west of Baryulgil.
The crops were so remote Gardner used GPS co-ordinates to find his way to the site.
But the GPS co-ordinates also helped police find him and his well-hidden crop harvest when they raided the site after first searching his home at South Gundurimba and finding the geographic co-ordinate details downloaded on his computer.
Gardner pleaded guilty in Lismore District Court to possession of a commercial quantity of cannabis leaf for the purpose of supply; and to the cultivation of 900 cannabis plants.
Judge James Black on Wednesday sentenced Gardner to four-and-a-half years jail (after finding special circumstances to reduce the head sentence from six years) and ordered that he must serve a non-parole of 27 months.
With time already spent in Long Bay Jail the budding photographer will be eligible for release on July 24, 2011.
Defence barrister Paul Smart had argued his client was a man of limited means, had not grown the cannabis for his own profit, and was not a man ‘living high on the hog'.
His most expensive possession was $20,000 worth of camera gear.
Mr Smart said the gross weight of the harvested cannabis crop also included stems and leaf.
In evidence Gardner said he roughly calculated his crop would have realised 80kg of useable cannabis heads and revealed his father taught him how to grow cannabis on the family's former banana farm at Doon Doon near Murwillumbah many years ago. He said one of his stepmothers had suggested it to his father.
With regard to the legal costs needed by eight of his family (including their partners) on the Queensland drug matters that involved police allegations of 150,000 cannabis plants, Gardner said: “I was led to believe (they would need) $500,000 to $700,000, that was the information from Queensland solicitors.”
Gardner said he expected to also be charged by Queensland police in relation to those matters.
“Why did you do it,” asked Mr Smart.
“The sole purpose was to raise those funds,” Gardner replied, speaking with clarity from the witness box.
“It was all for legal fees.”
Gardner said he learnt about growing cannabis while working as a photographer in Canada where growing the crop for medicinal purposes was legal.
Gardner said he now described his behaviour as ‘irresponsible' and in jail had seen ‘an awful lot of abuse' that had changed his attitude to drugs.