No Country for Auld Smokers III

Nicholas continues his No Country for Auld Smokers series, touching upon two cases from last year which deviated from the usual defendants brought before the courts for cannabis possession.

As we begin a new year, we can only imagine what 2023 will bring for cannabis reform across Europe, with Germany’s landmark decision to declassify the plant as a narcotic set to unfold in the coming months. But back home, 2023 may be the year we see more cases of pensioners coming under the scrutiny of the law for seeking out cannabis-based treatments to alleviate their ailments. The stereotypical cannabis strawman that the media embellishes when a young person is convicted doesn’t exactly align with the likes of Richard Goldfrapp and Patrick Smyth. Two men who simply wanted to create a source of medicine to help provide relief for themselves or others that otherwise would be treated with a cocktail of pain medication.

While their age becomes a factor when sentencing is carried out, it also exposes the untruth that cannabis is a young man’s drug and that there is an increasing number of auld lads who simply just want a smoke.

Richard Goldfrapp, a senior living “off the grid” had only escaped a prison term last November having pled guilty to a possession offence after it was discovered he owned forty cannabis plants cultivated for his own personal use in the privacy of his own West Cork home. No stranger to the law, he previously was handed a three-year suspended sentence for the same offence. Originally from the UK, Mr Goldfrapp has been living in Ireland for over 40 years with no assertion that he had been distributing cannabis to anyone. The plants were cultivated without an elaborate setup, no special lighting or hydroponics equipment was found as Goldfrapp utilised a soilless technique where the plants would not have reached their full potential due to his unsophisticated growing system.

His defence attorney Donal O’Sullivan argued Mr Goldfrapp had undergone four urinalysis tests before his court appearance which showed he was clean of drugs and that he was polite and had participated completely with the garda inquiry into the matter. Detective Manning reassured the courts as well as the public that he was prepared to keep an eye on Mr Goldfrapp to make sure he was remaining on the straight and narrow as the act of growing cannabis for personal use threatened the integral safety of Skibbereen. Despite receiving a suspended sentence for the same penalty, Judge Boyle informed Mr Goldfrapp that he was running out of opportunities and risking a possible jail term if he were to offend again.

In the wake of his sentencing, Mr Goldfrapp still believes cannabis should be legalised and that he was harming no one. “I think it should be legalised. It is not right to criminalise young people. Young people are adventurous at that age – they will try any kind of buzz or high. It drives them into the hands of dealers who are unscrupulous, a lot of them because they will offer something else besides. I don’t have any animosity towards the gardai or the judiciary – I just think it’s a bad law and they know it’s a bad law. They don’t change it because it would imply that they are wrong.” [1]

While Mr Goldfrapp was lucky to avert a prison stay, it is clear his age and demeanour played a major factor in his sentencing. Something many young smokers will not have on their side should they find themselves in a similar situation.

Up north, a 70-year-old man turned ‘Breaking Bad’ and began growing cannabis products to help his son’s wife who was suffering from a severe form of multiple sclerosis. Patrick Smyth from Liska Manor, Newry risked a prison sentence by cultivating cannabis as he could not bear to see his daughter-in-law suffer from unbearable pain. Last March, Mr Smyth was convicted of drug dealing but will have to serve 120 hours of community service instead of a prison sentence due to the Newry Crown Court taking a lenient view of his motivation to grow the plant. While Mr Smyth did not comment on his sentencing, he stands firm that his daughter-in-law got great benefit from using his produce. “It was helping with the pain relief, and it was giving her great benefit, I know I broke the law but now she’s on morphine several times a day – how is that any better?”

The sentencing comes after two years since a routine traffic stop on the 2nd of October 2020, where officers noticed a strong smell of cannabis coming from Mr Smyth’s car. This led to a search at his property where they uncovered a number of plants and cannabis products such as oils and tablets. Initially, Mr Smyth claimed the plants were for his own use, refusing to name the person he bought cannabis oils, creams, and tablets from. Having entered guilty pleas, his defence counsel Kevin O’Hare said the case came about from a man trying to help a loved one suffering from MS to which cannabis was having “an extremely positive impact“. The barrister compared the case to a local version of Breaking Bad which Judge Kerr commented “didn’t end well” but given the background and exceptionality of the case, a community order was given instead of the usual prison sentence. [2]

One in five people with MS questioned by the MS Society recently revealed they had used cannabis to aid with their symptoms. They stated it may assist with muscular spasms or stiffness and discomfort and according to the charity, some individuals with MS use cannabis in a number of ways to help relieve their symptoms.[3]

Nevertheless, while it should be no surprise that the generations before us also enjoy a toke, their stories are beginning to mount up and paint a much different picture to the one paraded in the media, that cannabis is a young person’s drug. It has been much easier for the public to write off a young person’s life being destroyed with a conviction compared to older generations who they believe should know better. Well, like their younger counterparts, they do know better. They know cannabis has a wealth of benefits that do not incur side-effects that pharmaceutical drugs may cause, they know the laws that govern it are completely archaic, not just due to the recent examples of legalisation in other countries, but from experiencing the drug first hand themselves.

We are a long way from older generations viewing cannabis the same way as younger generations, but the veil has been lifted to show a different narrative. That the auld lad you see strolling along in the street, the pensioner having a quiet pint to themselves in the pub or the senior in front of you in a queue chatting the ear off a bank teller, these pensioners appear to be no different than your granny but behind closed doors, no different than you or me, they are reaping in the benefits that cannabis provides in hopes that, one day, there will be a country for all smokers.




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