Appeal court quashes hydroponic cannabis convictions
· No proof that equipment was used to cultivate drug
· Relief for firms operating in legal grey area
# Duncan Campbell
# The Guardian,
# Monday July 14, 2008
Cannabis leaf. Photograph: Mykel Nicolaou / Rex Features
A court of appeal decision has shone a light on the homegrown cannabis industry. The quashing of the convictions of three men involved in hydroponics comes at a time when cultivation of cannabis in the UK is at record levels.
In January, three men who worked for a hydroponics company in Derby were convicted at Derby crown court of conspiracy to aid and abet the production of cannabis.
David Kenning was jailed for 21 months, his employee Paul Blackshaw received a suspended sentence and his business partner, Paul Fenwick, was jailed for three years for conspiracy to aid and abet and counsel production and possession of the drug.
It was the prosecution's case that Kenning and Fenwick, trading through their now defunct firm, had supplied equipment to cannabis growers, reasonably foreseeing that the items would be used illegally. But it was not proved that anyone had used the equipment to grow cannabis.
But in the appeal court judgment, published last week, Lord Phillips, the lord chief justice, ruled that the offences of conspiracy to aid and abet and counsel the production of cannabis were "unknown to law" and had to be quashed. "There can be no conviction for aiding and abetting, counselling or procuring, unless the offence is shown to have occurred," he said. "It is not an offence to attempt to aid and abet, counsel or procure the commission of an offence."
The case has highlighted the legal grey areas in which the suppliers of such equipment work at a time when homegrown cannabis is booming.
Harry Shapiro, of the charity Drugscope, estimated that between 60% and 80% of cannabis in Britain is homegrown, up from 11% a decade ago. While much of this is professionally produced in warehouses, some is cultivated for private consumption. Although it is legal to sell the high-powered lights and growing systems, it is not legal to assist in growing cannabis.
Niamh Eastwood, head of legal services at the drugs information and advice agency Release, which advised the three men, welcomed the ruling. She added that there was concern among stores selling such equipment over where they stood legally. "What is worrying is that people engaging in a legitimate business are still unsure of what the law is," she said.
There are many legitimate reasons for buying and selling hydroponics equipment. Many companies highlight how city dwellers can have the satisfaction of growing crops such as strawberries.