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Cultivating cannabis? It's like growing tomatoes, says judge

Nicola Woolcock, The Times, 8th August 2006

A JUDGE has refused to impose an antisocial behaviour order on a man cultivating cannabis because it is “no worse than having tomato plants”.

He also told Oxford City Council, who applied for the ASBO, that it was “the sort of thing they do in Russia or China”.

Twelve cannabis plants, worth £3,400, were discovered growing under special hydroponic lights at Phillip Pledge’s council flat. The council sought a possession order for the National Blood Service driver’s home and an ASBO banning him from the housing estate for two years.

Judge Charles Harris, QC, refused both applications, saying that smoking cannabis did not constitute a nuisance. The judge said: “Smoking or possession of a quantity of cannabis, though a criminal offence, does not constitute a nuisance.

“For some reason the Crown Prosecution Service has not charged Mr Pledge. He was arrested and released. If there is evidence against the defendant he should be brought before a criminal court.”

The plants were found on the Blackbird Leys estate in Oxford during a police raid in February. The city council said that Mr Pledge was causing “alarm, harassment and distress” to his neighbours by growing the marijuana.

Simon Strelitz, for the council, said that Mr Pledge had broken his tenancy agreement by storing and growing the drug. He told Oxford County Court: “The city council is not prepared to allow its property to harbour people who wish to commit offences. The fact that he has drugs in such quantity acts as a magnet for other unsavoury characters.”

Mr Pledge, a business partner in Oxford Hydroponics, represented himself in court.

He said that the drugs were for personal use, and added: “I’ve not dealt drugs and it’s never been proven that I dealt drugs. I am a partner in a hydroponics shop, which carries a certain stigma with it. I’ve been trying to get a move away for two years and been trying to wean myself off cannabis.”

Judge Harris said: “If you are Sherlock Holmes and you go back to Baker Street and inject yourself with cocaine, as he did, you cannot be called a nuisance. So quietly smoking cannabis at home, not that it is to be encouraged, I’m not sure at all it constitutes a nuisance. If you are simply growing it, it’s no more offensive to neighbours than tomato plants.”

A spokesman for Oxford City Council said that it would be appealing against the decision.

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