Sionad Jones pleaded guilty to two charges, namely cultivating the cannabis and possessing it for her own use, but denied the charge of having the drug for the purpose of selling it or supplying to others on September 10 last year, when 18 plants were seized by gardaí.
It only took a jury 10 minutes to return a unanimous not guilty verdict on that charge at Cork Circuit Criminal Court.
The unusual case was greeted with frequent outbursts of laughter from the public gallery and indeed from the jury box.
Detective Sergeant Fergal Foley, who gave evidence for the prosecution estimating an €8,000 value on the seized cannabis, described Jones as free-spirited.
The 52-year-old freely admitted smoking cannabis from the age of 19. A qualified biochemist, she bought the land and house at Maughanaclea, Kealkil, Bantry, Co Cork, 24 years ago with her young son after moving to the county in order to grow vegetables, trees and herbs.
She told the jury she also grew cannabis plants outdoors. “I had to hide them so the guards wouldn’t find them but they did. Unfortunately.”
Peter O’Flynn, defending, said the prosecution believed she would be the type of person who would supply her home-grown cannabis to friends.
Jones said: “I don’t mix much with other people. I spend a lot of time outside working.
“I just have a little pipe by myself to inspire myself. My cannabis is uplifting and gives me inspiration and energy to do the work. I am 52 and I’ve been smoking this since I was 19. I don’t consider it did me any harm. I am not addicted. Some days I don’t smoke any.”
Siobhán Lankford, prosecuting, made the case that the yield from the 18 plants seized by gardaí was too great to be used by one person and suggested that if it was a year’s supply it would have been enough for 1,600 or 3,200 pipes of cannabis, depending on whether a quarter or a half gramme of cannabis was used.
But Jones had no interest in weights or measures.
“I don’t waste my time weighing it before I put it in my pipe, I just smoke it and get out and do something positive with my life.”
Sometimes her year’s supply would run out before the end of the year but Ms Lankford wanted to know if there was some left over from the 2009 crop at the start of 2010. One of the biggest outbursts of laughter greeted Jones’s delayed and cautious reply, “Is this a trick question?”
Later in the cross-examination, Jones began to find it funny herself. When Ms Lankford suggested that the defendant must socialise with neighbours from time to time, “and offer them a smoke of your pipe?” Jones laughed and said: “No, they might leave their germs on the pipe.”
Jones smiled respectfully throughout the process and accepted that there was a law against growing and possessing cannabis and that she had broken this law.
While looking quite at home in the witness box it sounded like she was more at home tending her precious crop, “watching them since the spring. Watching and waiting. Hopefully.”
A group of second-year students from Rathmore Community School in Co Kerry couldn’t believe their luck that they picked yesterday to be in Cork Circuit Criminal Court. One of them remarked afterwards: “If every case was like that I’d be there every day.”
However, the weeks ahead may be no laughing matter for Jones, who has a nine-month suspended prison sentence hanging over her from a district court in West Cork for cannabis cultivation. This may now be activated.
One way or another, the woman with several previous cannabis cultivation convictions will be back before Judge Seán Ó Donnabháin for sentencing for her latest cultivation and drug possession convictions on December 1.
Judge Ó Donnabháin said she would have to reflect on her attitude to the offences now that she had several convictions for smoking or growing cannabis.
“Either you change or face the consequences,” the judge warned.