Meanwhile, the recent case of Paul Lee, a former heroin addict prosecuted for €4 of cannabis that he claims to use to manage his chronic pain without opiates, further demonstrates the cruelty and futility of criminalisation. How the public interest was served in the case of Mr Lee, who is awaiting sentencing, is unclear.
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?
The answer lies in how the law is structured to favour the prosecution in these cases. Under s15 of the Misuse of Drugs Act 1977, if you are caught with an amount of drugs deemed too much for personal use, a jury is permitted to assume you are engaged in sale or supply. In other words, s15 allows a jury to convict someone of drug dealing, even if the State provides no direct evidence to support the charge. This is why it was possible for Ms Corrigan to be prosecuted for the dealing offence.
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.
To our first point then: should Ms Corrigan have been charged and prosecuted for dealing in the cannabis she had grown? If we take the jury’s determination of not guilty, the answer is surely no. But failure to achieve a conviction is not, in and of itself, a sound basis for criticising a decision to prosecute. The DPP presumably believed there was some prospect of convicting Ms Corrigan for dealing, based on the amount of cannabis found in her possession.
In the meantime, Gardaí and the DPP must recognise that prosecution can exacerbate the harm caused by drugs, and use their vast discretion in ways that serve the public interest.
Alternatively, it reflects a desire to bring the most serious charges conceivable in a given case. The politics behind crime statistics can provide a powerful incentive for criminal justice agencies to inflate the seriousness of offences they claim to have detected. Either explanation could shed light on their tendency to overvalue cannabis plants and other drugs, often raising eyebrows among researchers and users.
In explaining what appeared – to Gardaí and the DPP at least – to be a large amount of cannabis in her possession, Ms Corrigan claimed she had not anticipated that the plants would grow so large. Judge Pauline Codd applied the Probation of Offenders Act in relation to Ms Corrigan’s admission of simple possession, meaning that she did not receive a criminal conviction. This is to be welcomed, as society would have benefited little from a harsher penalty.
But is 325 grams of cannabis too much for personal use? By growing the cannabis plants outside, a more environmentally-friendly approach to cultivation than energy-intensive indoor growing, and a more socially-friendly approach than purchasing on the black market, Ms Corrigan was more likely to cultivate larger plants, predictably resulting in a greater harvest. Outdoor cultivation does, however, limit the average grower to a single harvest a year.
It is an offence to be in possession of a controlled drug and on summary conviction for this offence, you could be liable for a class C fine or a prison sentence of up to 12 months. If the court decides, you could be liable for both. On conviction on indictment for possessing controlled drugs, the court can decide on an appropriate fine and you could also be liable for a prison sentence of up to 7 years. Again, if the court decides, you could be liable for both.
Based on the findings of these reports, the court may decide not to impose a fine or prison sentence on you. Instead, you may be placed under the supervision of a named person or body (such as the HSE) for a specified period of time or you may be required to get the kind of treatment (medical or otherwise) that has been recommended for you. The court may also order that you complete a course of education, instruction or training that will improve your job prospects or social circumstances, facilitate your social rehabilitation or reduce the likelihood of you committing further drugs offences.
Possession of controlled drugs – cannabis or cannabis resin
The Garda Síochána has a number of units and initiatives aimed at combating drug abuse and drug trafficking internationally and locally. These include:
It is also an offence to grow cannabis plants or opium poppies and on summary conviction for this offence, you could be liable for a class C fine, or a prison sentence of no longer than 12 months. If the court decides, you could be liable for both. On conviction on indictment for growing these plants, the court can decide on an appropriate fine and you could also be liable for a prison sentence of up to 14 years. Again, if the court decides, you could be liable for both.
Attempting or helping others to commit an offence
Where the market value of the drugs is €13,000 or more, the person convicted is liable for a minimum sentence of 10 years. However, this does not apply, if the court is satisfied that there are exceptional circumstances. Similar penalties apply to someone convicted of importing drugs with a value of €13,000 or more.