Our politicians will be very pleased with themselves. Judge John McDonald has done their bidding and last week jailed a Kaikohe mother of three, 33-year-old Kelly van Gaalen, for two years after police found a bucket of dried marijuana at her home.
The cops had turned up, not because the van Gaalen residence was a tinny house, but in response to a 111 cry for help from husband Jasper van Gaalen in the aftermath of a violent armed home invasion.
Three Kaikohe men were subsequently sent to prison for the attack, but the police also found 684g of dried marijuana in the house and two plants outside, and charged the couple with growing cannabis for supply.
Two years jail for 684 grams of cannabis is just insane. And what message does it send out to people that if you have a small amount of cannabis at your home, don’t call the Police when armed invaders are about to kill you – in case you get two years in jail.
The Northern Advocate reported Judge McDonald as saying there was no evidence of commercial use, but that Parliament had set the upper limit for possession for personal use at 28g, and “it is not for this court to comment whether that is a just law or not”.
He added that “to say this sentencing has troubled me is an understatement”. That didn’t stop him from imposing a draconian punishment.
He said he had to be consistent with sentences imposed for similar offences. The blogosphere has been alive with examples showing how wrong this claim appears.
On June 27, for example, the Ashburton Guardian reported the case of an Israeli couple caught red-handed with 6kg of dried cannabis, and a sophisticated indoor growing operation at their residence. There was evidence of 54 plants and a master plant for propagation. Yet Judge Noel Welsh discharged them without conviction in return for a $2000 donation to the Salvation Army.
On July 4, Legalise Cannabis Party candidate in the recent Northland byelection Maki Herbert was sentenced to 12 months’ home detention after being found with 153 plants and convicted of cultivation for supply.
I’d expect a prison sentence as a last resort, not a first resort for a crime like this. Other Judges have shown discretion with sentencing, yet Judge McDonald did not.
Mrs van Gaalen has appealed against her sentence but rots away in Auckland Region Women’s Corrections Facility, her application for bail denied, while her local community raises funds for her appeal.
I’m sure it will be over-turned on appeal. And she should be given bail until the appeal is held.
Mrs van Gaalen seems the living evidence. The recipient of one of Northland’s 15 Local Hero medals, she was chairwoman of the Kaikohe Community Arts Council, a member of the local Community Board and promotions manager for the Kaikohe Business Association.
In court, her business association boss, Steve Sangster, praised her achievements and the pride she had instilled in the town.
I hope she gets bail and gets the sentence reduced to something more appropriate.