Prison over 0.02 grams of cannabis, and a 20-year wait for justice to be served

Arrested in 2001 but arraigned 18 months later, Eugenio Camenzuli posted a guilty plea on his first sitting in 2006, but spent 20 years before an appeal overturned a prison sentence for just 0.02g of cannbis

The court of Criminal Appeal handed a 63-year-old man a suspended sentence for cultivating just 0.02 of a gram of cannabis 20 years ago, sparing him the six-month prison sentence he had originally been handed.

Eugenio Camenzuli had been 43 when he was arrested for cultivating the plant in 2001. He was only arraigned 18 months later, in 2002, and then again in 2006 for his first sitting.

At the time he had told the police someone in Paceville had given him cannabis, and that he had hung on to the seeds, planting and watering them. Three plants had sprouted, but when police came to his house, he pulled them up and threw them out of the window in a panic.

Camenzuli’s filing of an admission of guilty in the first sitting in 2006, meant he was handed the minimum sentence under law in force at the time: six months in prison and a Lm200 (€465) fine.

The court had then noted that Camenzuli had a stable job, was respected and trusted at his workplace and had already completed a drug rehabilitation programme.

Although only 0.02g of cannabis had been found in the man’s possession, being in the natural form the plant was considered as cultivation and not simple possession, mandating a prison sentence.

Madam Justice Consuelo Scerri Herrera, deciding the appeal, observed the five-year gap between arrest and arraignment, during which the man had stopped using drugs. She noted all this good work would be undone because of the punishment following the charge of cultivation.

The judge also noted that the law gave no definition of cultivation.

“One understands by cultivation that the accused must have attentively seen the plant grow from a seed to give the product. Cultivation implies that whoever is cultivating cannabis is doing so in order to have sufficient quantities to be able to process and sell it and therefore traffic it.”

The characteristics of the case in question were more akin to simple possession, said the judge, pointing out that the tiny amount found could never have been used to cultivate the amounts required for trafficking of cannabis.

She noted that in order for cultivation to constitute trafficking, it had to be shown that the cultivation was not for the accused’s sole consumption.

The court took into account the fact that the laws dealing with cultivation had changed over the years and that these changes should be reflected in the punishment: today the law does not prohibit alternative punishments to imprisonment in cases such as this, said the court.

Scerri Herrera also that she had always done everything possible to help people with drug problems, when convinced that the persons in question had shown good will and trustworthiness.

But now the case had been pending for 20 years. The appellant was arraigned in October 2002, 18 months after releasing his statement. The first sentence, despite his admission, was handed down seven years later. The appeal was filed in March 2009 and only ended up before Madame Justice Scerri Herrera on 4 May 2021, after being left pending before a different judge for 11 years.

In the meantime, a Constitutional case had been filed by the appellant in 2010 and was decided three years alter. “From that day on, the case remained sine die before this court, differently presided. This exaggerated delay was also taken into consideration…in handing down punishment.”

Camenzuli’s prison sentence was therefore reformed to six months’ imprisonment, suspended for 1 year. The fine of €466 remained due, as did the order for the payment of costs relating to the appointment of experts.