Cannabis grower was no trafficker, court suspends jail sentence

Appeals court overturns prison sentence for woman who cultivated cannabis to treat her anxiety in 2014, after law changed in the meantime

An appeals court has overturned a prison sentence handed to a woman who cultivated cannabis to treat her anxiety in 2014, noting that the law had changed in the meantime.

Marie-claire Camilleri, 40, was accused of having cultivated cannabis and possession of a cannabis plant in 2014.

In July that year a police raid on her property had found a pot in which six cannabis plants were growing, together with some cannabis grass and a joint. She had told the police that she was a user of the drug.

In October 2019 the Court of Magistrates found her guilty and imposed a sentence of six months’ imprisonment together with a fine of €700.

But Camilleri had appealed, arguing that she had only admitted to growing one plant in her statement to the police. The six plants had been found growing in a single pot.

Camilleri filed an appeal the following month arguing that the law spoke of cultivating “more than one cannabis plant”. The effect of the cultivation of that one plant would naturally be the sprouting of more plants, argued Camilleri’s defence. It argued that the correct interpretation of the law would be that if only small amounts of cannabis were being cultivated for personal use, one should not automatically be jailed.

Madam Justice Consuelo Scerri Herrera noted that the court of first instance was satisfied that the plants were only for Camilleri’s personal use, and that the woman’s circumstances militated against her imprisonment, but had said that it had no choice but to jail her.

The central issue to the case was whether Camilleri had cultivated one or more plants.

Inspector Nikolai Sant had testified in 2015 that the method of cultivation was “unprofessional” and that there was no intent to traffic the drug.

The accused had testified, telling the court that she would grow the plants and smoke marijuana to help with her chronic anxiety, which her prescribed medication was not sufficiently controlling.

She had obtained some cannabis buds in July 2014 and planted seeds which she had found in them, watering the seeds twice a week.

Camilleri denied ever involving anyone else in the cultivation of the plant.

The Court of Criminal Appeal noted that the court of first instance could not but impose a jail sentence after correctly interpreting the law. But earlier this year, the article of the law under which she had to be jailed was repealed under Act IV of 2020. “Therefore today, the law doesn’t stipulate that a person who cultivated more than one cannabis plant cannot be given an alternative punishment to effective imprisonment.”

The central issue now is whether the cannabis was intended solely for personal use.

The judge noted that although six plants were found in the pot, for the purposes of punishment other factors would be taken into account: primary amongst these was that the appellant had planted them for her personal use with no intent to share or traffic, as well as her cooperation with the police and a certificate from her psychotherapist stating that her marijuana use to deter anxiety had since been “reduced drastically and replaced with more orthodox approaches.”

Instead of jailing her, the court suspended her six-month prison sentence for one year, ordering her to pay the expenses of the case and the destruction of the drugs.

Lawyer Joe Giglio was defence counsel.