In the interests of full disclosure, one of us – Dr Cian Ó Concubhair – admitted to, and was convicted of cultivating cannabis for sale or supply in 2010. These experiences of cannabis cultivation – and prosecution and conviction – assist us in interrogating the approach of Gardaí and the DPP in Ms Corrigan’s case: particularly these agencies’ understanding of, and response to, cannabis cultivation and use.
While many aspects of this case might be criticised – not least, the ongoing criminalisation of cannabis use for medicinal purposes – here we wish to challenge the decision by Gardaí and the DPP to charge and prosecute Ms Corrigan. First, we will question whether she should have been charged with the specific offence of possession for the purpose of sale or supply: the ‘dealing’ offence. Second, we will ask what public interest was served by the decision to bring any prosecution in her case.
Dr Cian Ó Concubhair and Dr Ian Marder say the DPP and Gardaí need a more common-sense approach in their application of certain drug laws.
Wasting court time?
Ms Corrigan had, however, freely admitted to – and was duly convicted of – possessing the drug for personal use. Ms Corrigan had grown the cannabis herself outside her Dublin home. She told Gardaí, and the jury in Dublin Circuit Criminal Court, that she cultivated and used the drug to help manage the chronic pain caused by her illnesses.
Normally when trying serious criminal offences – and here, Ms Corrigan faced up to 14 years in prison – Irish courts would not allow a charge to go to the jury where no evidence was offered by the State. Why, then, was the very serious charge of dealing put to the jury?
According to gardaí, the plants had a street value of almost €100,000.
At the time of Operation Nitrogen, Garda commissioner Martin Callinan said organised crime gangs had shifted to this type of production following the closure of head shops and because it was a low-maintenance, high-return activity.
Sionad Jones, 52, a Welsh biochemist, enjoyed growing and smoking her own cannabis.
Barry and Jacqueline Robinson Turner, who are from London and living at Shancashel, Kilmichael, Macroom, Co Cork, pleaded guilty to different charges arising out of the Garda drugs search at a prefab concealed by bales of hay in a haybarn at the back of their home.
Take the case of a 60-year-old man who had been smoking it for 43 years.
Jones, of Maughanaclea, Kealkil, Bantry, couldn’t resist telling Cork Circuit Criminal Court that she would have no problem having gardaí come and carry out follow-up checks in her house provided they didn’t bring in mud on their shoes.
In one operation alone last year, codenamed Operation Nitrogen, gardaí raided 60 major cannabis-growing factories around the country and seized plants with a street value in excess of €6m. A fully mature plant is estimated to be worth €400 and, in some cases, they are being grown in their thousands by criminals.
Welshman David Barnes, who lives in Cork, has been smoking cannabis since he was 17 years old.
A senior garda who has been involved in many drug detections said that landlords, in particular, could help them if their suspicions are aroused.