Pensioner acquitted of possession of cannabis for sale or supply after plants grow too big

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By Stephen Bourke

A legally blind Dublin pensioner who did not expect her cannabis plants to grow as large as they did has been acquitted of possessing close to a third of a kilogram of the drug for sale or supply.

Evelyn Corrigan (68) of Redwood Close in Tallaght, Dublin, pleaded guilty to possession of 325.7 grams of cannabis at her home on 11 December 2017, but denied selling it – arguing she was only making medicine to treat her pain.

In his closing speech, James Dwyer SC, defending, asked the jury if his client looked like a drug dealer to them.

“Is it suggested she was walking up and down the Square in Tallaght to sell it? Is this Breaking Bad meets Golden Girls?” he asked.

Following a trial at Dublin Circuit Criminal Court, a jury returned a verdict of not guilty in relation to the charge of possession of cannabis for sale or supply.

Judge Pauline Codd dismissed the charge of drugs possession under the Probation Act.

During the trial, Sergeant Gearóid O’Brien confirmed to Joseph Barnes BL, prosecuting, that eight jars of what turned out to be cannabis were found in a spare bedroom in the house during a search and a weighing scales was also discovered at the property.

Ms Corrigan immediately admitted what it was, telling gardaí at the scene: “It’s for my glaucoma. I have emphysema.” She denied selling it.

Sgt O’Brien showed the court a plastic bag of green material and told the court it was the contents of the eight jars, which he had amalgamated into a single exhibit.

When Ms Corrigan was brought in for interview the following July, she was shown the same bag.

“Did youse mix it all up?” she said, “Because some of it was leaves and it’s all mixed up now. I’ve got OCD, that’s no good.”

“That’s the Friesian Dew,” she said. “That’s the one you make the medicine from but youse have it all mixed up, that’s terrible.”

She confirmed it was hers but said: “There’s not as much there as there looks.”

“It was hard work all that, it grew so fast. I had to push it in out of the rain and push it back out in the sun, god it was hardly worth it – easier to buy it,” she said.

Mr Dwyer cross-examined Sgt O’Brien and put it to him that that Corrigan has no previous convictions.

“Not even a parking ticket,” the sergeant said.

“She’s legally blind, isn’t she?” counsel asked.

“As far as I’m aware, judge,” the sergeant said.

Sgt O’Brien said he had “amalgamated” the contents of the jars to weigh the material together.

“So what we have in that jar includes buds and stalks and leaves,” Mr Dwyer said.

“Yes,” said the sergeant.

“Stalks and leaves are the parts of the cannabis plant that contains a very low concentration of THC?” counsel asked.

“Yes,” Sgt O’Brien said.

“That’s what gives the – for want of a better word – soothing effect to the consumer?” counsel asked.

“So I’m led to believe – I’ve never tried it, judge,” he said.

“They want to buy the buds because that’s where the good stuff is?” Mr Dwyer asked.

“I have seen both, but yes, in general yes,” Sgt O’Brien said.

Mr Dwyer called Corrigan to give evidence in her own defence, and said she had been making an extract from the material to treat pain – saying the CBD oil legally available “didn’t work as good”.

She bought the seeds from a Dutch firm, picking a variety called Friesian Dew which was suitable to grow outdoors in the Irish climate, and sowed three seeds in plant pots in her garden.

“They grew very big,” she said. “I didn’t know they’d grow so big.”

After harvesting, she would prepare an extract from the plant material, including both the leaves and flowering buds.

“I put them in a jar. You put in some oil. Then you put it in a saucepan of water and let it simmer for four to five hours.”

Judge Codd interrupted her: “Perhaps we shouldn’t hear the entire process,” she said.

Corrigan explained she would then strain the contents through a tea towel and collect the oil in a small bottle which would last her two or three weeks.

“It doesn’t make me go all funny like if I drank wine,” she said. “It just stops the pain.”

Cross-examining her, Mr Barnes put it to her that the variety she had bought, called ‘Friesian Dew’, was a “very potent strain of ‘skunk’” and asked why it would be more effective than the CBD sold legally here.

“CBD has the THC taken out of it,” Corrigan said. “When the THC is in it it works better. It works as a painkiller,” she said.

She said the contents of the bag shown to the court were the product of all three of the plants she grew.

Mr Barnes put it to her that the quantity in the bag – some 325.7 grams — meant she was presumed to have posession of the drugs for sale and supply.

“No, I never intended to give it to anybody else,” she said.

“Did you?” counsel asked.

“No I didn’t,” she replied.

“I have to put it to you, Ms Corrigan, that’s a very significant amount of cannabis,” Mr Barnes said.

“I didn’t realise it was that much. I didn’t realise the three plants were going to make that much,” she said.

The court heard Corrigan suffered from asthma, a dystrophy affecting her left eye, a transient ischaemic attack, generalised anxiety disorder, and degenerative arthritis of her lower back.

Giving evidence via a letter to the court, her GP Dr Deborah McGrane said that by using her own CBD oil Corrigan was able to manage her pain and anxiety well enough to take exercise.

“Since stopping her CBD her symptoms have returned and we have been trying to manage it by more conventional means,” she said.

In his closing speech, Mr Barnes said Corrigan had admitted having the 325.7 grams of cannabis, and said there was a presumption in the law that an amount so large had to be for distribution to others.

“It is up to you to decide whether that presumption has been displaced,” Mr Barnes said.

“At the moment cannabis is illegal in Ireland,” said Mr Dwyer in his closing speech. “International trends suggest that that may change. It is people like Ms Corrigan who are spearheading it. It’s been recognised as having significant health benefits.”

“She allowed me to make admissions so we could get to the point of this trial: the bizarre, frankly, suggestion that my client is a drug dealer,” he said.

He said the medical evidence and Ms Corrigan’s account should be enough to raise a reasonable doubt.

“Does Evelyn Corrigan look like a drug dealer to you? Is it suggested she was walking up and down the Square in Tallaght to sell it? Is this Breaking Bad meets Golden Girls?” he asked.

“The verdict is so obvious – perhaps more obvious in this case than in any other I’ve been in – you may not even wish to retire after the judge’s charge,” he said.

He offered on behalf of the defence “an apology that your precious time has been wasted on a ridiculous case like this”.

“You may have a view that cannabis should be legalised or you may have a view that cannabis is pernicious and horrible,” Judge Codd said. “You must leave those views outside the jury room.”

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