UK Man Blames Pot Grow on Rough Divorce, Judge Partially Buys
As Britain moves forward with legalizing certain medical marijuana products, one man’s run-in with the law illustrates the possible leniency of UK courts toward cannabis offenses.
A UK man arrested for growing 38 cannabis plants at home defended his grow in court as his effort to cope with a rough divorce and the ridiculously high price of cannabis on the British Isles — and the judge on the court seemed to believe his story, saying there was no clear-cut evidence the cannabis was for anyone but him.
On April 25, not far outside Portsmouth on the coast of southern England, police discovered 35-year-old Mark Colwell’s indoor marijuana cultivation setup. At the time, officials put the street value of the crop at £35,000, which is a little bit less than $45,000 U.S. dollars.
When he showed up at the Portsmouth Crown Court, Colwell told Judge Roger Hetherington that the multi-room operation the police had discovered was his simple effort to cut costs. At the time of the raid, Colwell told officers he was smoking up to a quarter pound a month.
“He ran up massive bills on his credit card,” said Howard Barrington-Clark, Colwell’s lawyer, told the court, according to Metro UK. “He was lonely and depressed.”
But Judge Hetherington proved to be a tough sell on the idea of 38 plants being for personal consumption, especially given the financial issues Colwell has faced since his marriage fell apart. He told Colwell, “‘I’m extremely skeptical whether all of this was for your own use.”
But the facts are the facts, and there was no evidence Colwell had plans to distribute the crop once it had finished.
“I think the probability was you were intending to sell some of it for financial gain to assist with your debts, but I don’t make a specific finding about that,” Hetherington said.
While Colwell didn’t get off completely free in the end, it could have gone considerably worse. Cannabis is a Class B drug in the UK, which features a slightly different scheduling or tanking system than seen here in the states. Possession of a Class B drug in the UK can land you in prison for up to five years. Furthermore, production, like exactly what Colwell was doing, can land you with a 14-year sentence in prison.
But the courts would not drop the hammer on a cooperative Colwell, who had always admitted the cannabis was his and that he also stole £896 worth of electricity over the past couple years to power his operation. At the end of the case, the judge only sentenced him to a two year suspended sentence. What makes this extra impressive? This wasn’t even his first offense.
In 2014, magistrates issued Colwell a community order, a type of sentence in the UK that can be modified on a case-by-case basis, for producing cannabis. But Colwell’s biggest run-in with the law came in 1999 as a teenager charged with possession and intent to supply a Class A substance. He went on to serve four years in prison on that charge.
But Colwell’s claims of not wanting to go broke definitely carry weight. A recent discussion on Quora highlighted the current price of cannabis in the UK. According to the respondents, a half ounce of above-average cannabis will run up to £140. That is up from just £80 a few years ago.
So, if Colwell was purchasing the ounce of marijuana he is smoking every week at street prices, he would be looking at a habit that would run north of £13,400 a year.
This week, UK Home Secretary Sajid Javid announced cannabis would be moved to schedule two in England and doctors will be able to prescribe it in the autumn. Much of the discussion has been around epilepsy, and Colwell’s post-divorce depression bud likely wouldn’t qualify. Colwell seems more like a flower guy — and the new law will only provide for extracts likes the ones made by UK medical giant GW Pharmaceuticals.
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