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Case “not a precedent”

Posted on June 16, 2000

Hemp argument unique: police

By Karen Clark, The Nelson Mail

Nelson, New Zealand — Police say they do not believe a precedent has been set by a Motueka man who successfully argued in court that the cannabis plants he was growing were not a drug.

Even if other people adopted the argument of hemp advocate Stephen Burnett, this did not meant they would automatically succeed, police said.

However, New Zealand Hemp Industry Association chief executive Mac McIntosh hailed the court case as a “victory for common sense.”

Mr Burnett was discharged without conviction in the Nelson District Court after tests showed that cannabis plants found in his vegetable garden contained only a trace of the psychoactive chemical THC.

Mr Burnett asked for the tests to be carried out to back his claim that the plants were industrial hemp, a distant cousin of drug cannabis.

He said he had grown them in preparation for the Government approving industrial hemp trials, and had never intended to use them for drug purposes.

The tests showed that the plants had THC levels well below those in drug cannabis, leading Judge Chris Tuohy to conclude that “no psychoactive effect could be caused.”

Nelson police prosecutor Rex Morris said he considered the case “fairly unique,” and was not concerned about a flood of similar cases.

He said anyone taking the same stance would have to pay for the THC tests, as Mr Burnett had, and the results would not necessarily be the same.

As far as the police were concerned, THC levels were irrelevent because it was illegal to grow hemp without a licence, he said.

Police national bureau investigation manager Detective Inspector Harry Quinn said there was a grey area about whether hemp might fall within the definition of cannabis under the Misuse of Drugs Act in some cases, and therefore be illegal.

He doubted that the case would be used as a precedent by others trying to get off cannabis charges.

“I don’t think anyone would want to risk their livelihood without doing scientific research,” he said.

However, Mr McIntosh said he hoped the case would serve as a “wake-up call” for the police and politicians, by demonstrating that the laws governing hemp were inadequate.

Hemp supporters have been lobbying the Government for years to allow trial hemp crops. Earlier this year the Government said it supported in principle the lifting of a moratorium on such crops.

Mr McIntosh said he believed the Government was “right on the verge” of removing the moratorium, but if it didn’t happen soon, more people would illegally import hemp seeds.

He said he believed it was the first time that anyone had used low THC levels as grounds for escaping a cannabis conviction.

However, he would not like to see the argument used regularly, because he felt it would undermine the case for allowing hemp to be grown.

“It implies that there is a drug content to industrial hemp when there isn’t, and this only adds to the public’s confusion,” he said.

Copyright © 2000, The Nelson Mail. All rights reserved.