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OPINION: Five-year sentence for Ireland cannabis caregiver is ‘brutal’ and ‘wildly disproportionate’

Patrick Moore was supplying cannabis oil to patients with cancer and other chronic illnesses.



Brutal five-year sentence for Limerick cannabis caregiver
Patrick Moore (second right) with wife Ali and their two children. Photo courtesy of the Moore family.

Earlier this month Irish dad-of-two, Patrick Moore, was sentenced to five years for the cultivation and supply of cannabis, much of which was donated to severely ill patients. The tragic consequences will be felt by many, writes friend and long-time activist, Peter Reynolds.

Patrick Moore lives with his partner and two teenage children in rural County Limerick in Ireland.

In September 2020, at the height of the pandemic, a huge force of armed gardai raided their home. Patrick was out at the time so Ali, his partner and their two children were faced with 15 armed men brandishing automatic weapons.

Ali called Pat and he returned home immediately. He told the gardai there were cannabis plants growing in the shed at the back of the house and handed them the key so they could investigate. They discovered 19 plants, three small seedlings, the rest in various stages of flowering. They also collected together some bags of trim which had been put aside to make oil, amounting in total to 2.4kg.

The gardai also found two notebooks which recorded financial transactions and a calendar that indicated cultivation had been going on for some time.

Last week, at Limerick District Court, having already pleaded guilty to cultivation and supply, Pat attended his sentencing hearing. The whole family was there and I went along to offer moral support.

We waited from 11am, until his case was finally called around 4pm. The trim was valued by gardai at €48,000 (€20 per gram) and the plants at €15,200 (€800 each), a total of €63,200 [approximately £54,209]. By 5.30pm he had been sentenced to five years in jail, the final two suspended.

A cannabis caregiver 

As acknowledged in court, the gardai had been acting on information received, and clearly believed that Pat was some sort of major drug baron, potentially armed and dangerous. 

Pat was a caregiver, that is someone who produces cannabis for medical use, mostly oil, which is used by people with cancer, other serious conditions and for end-of-life care. Before sentencing him, Judge Catherine Staines read eight or nine testimonials from people he had been supplying.

One was from the daughter of an elderly man who has suffered with Huntington’s Disease for nearly 20 years. When he started using the oil that Pat had provided at no cost, he regained his power of speech, he was able to swallow again and no longer needed all his food to be pureed. He also experienced far fewer lung infections and pneumonia. His sleep improved and his energy and vitality for life returned.

Another was from the parents of a boy who was diagnosed with leukaemia at the age of four and given two years to live. That was six years ago and he is still alive today. Pat provided oil free of charge and the family is in no doubt that it saved their son’s life.

There is no pretence here. Pat told me that he was selling high quality flower to a small network of friends and acquaintances. He used this to fund the production of oil for medical use, all of which he gave to sick people without charge. For those that don’t know, the ratio of cannabis flower to oil is about seven to one. You need seven grams of cannabis to make one gram of oil.

I know Pat is not alone. Throughout the UK and Ireland there are dozens of cannabis caregivers providing lifesaving medicine to sick people which, for complex reasons, conventional medicine and healthcare have failed to deliver. I know, and have known, several of these courageous people, some of whom put themselves in terrible danger for altruistic reasons. More than once I have seen that they simply can’t stop, even if they want to. How can you deny a sick child or someone in terrible pain when you have the ability and knowledge to help?

I have known Pat for around four years and he certainly doesn’t lead a lavish lifestyle. He helps Ali run a small café in the local town and he has a business selling hydroponic equipment and supplies online. He drives an old Land Rover and at home he has a large polytunnel where he grows a variety of vegetables and even his own tobacco. He was the first person to show me that it is actually possible to grow tomatoes in South-West Ireland’s hostile climate.

An unjust law 

To understand his sentence and why there is no sensible prospect of an appeal, it is necessary to put aside one’s opinion that the law prohibiting cannabis is wrong. All decent, rational people who are properly informed will recognise the injustice, the self-defeating stupidity of this law but it remains in force, for now.

Ireland’s Misuse of Drugs Act 1977 is a cut-down version of the UK’s Misuse of Drugs Act 1971. There are no different classifications of drugs, they’re all just controlled drugs, so heroin and cocaine are treated in the same way as cannabis. There is a particularly iniquitous clause, Section 15A, added in 1999, that prescribes a mandatory minimum sentence of 10 years in jail for possession of drugs with a value of over €13,000. The maximum sentence is life.

Although described as mandatory, in practice the trial judge does have some discretion in ‘exceptional and specific circumstances’, namely previous ‘good character’, pleading guilty at an early stage and providing ‘material assistance’ in investigation of the offence. There is no reduction for cannabis compared to more harmful drugs. The relevant factor is the value of the drugs and therefore the inherent ‘criminality’ of the offence.

Opening the hearing, prosecution counsel tried to head off any chance of a lenient or suspended sentence by citing authorities that showed where a light sentence had been imposed, it had been increased on appeal. Prosecution counsel had already told Pat’s barrister that they would appeal if the sentence was suspended.

I was shocked by the poor performance of Pat’s barrister. He made vague references to Pat being interested in meditation, that growing cannabis was part of a self-sufficiency ‘lifestyle’ and that the people Pat was supplying shared his ‘belief’ that cannabis has some beneficial properties. It was as if it was all some eccentric, hippy-dippy, whacko nonsense. He failed to mention that the Irish state has recognised cannabis as a legitimate medicine since 2017.

Neither did he adduce any of the testimonials as evidence in support of mitigation. All he did was make vague references to Pat’s ‘motivation’, the implication being that he may be a bit deluded in thinking he was doing anyone any good.

Of all the officials in court, probably the most sympathetic was the judge. She said it was quite clear that Pat was not a drug dealer exploiting vulnerable people. She remarked that €3,000 cash found in the house was voluntarily returned by the gardai. They did not regard it as the proceeds of crime.

I was disappointed she made the point that ‘cannabis causes a great deal of harm’ because, firstly, the evidence in general doesn’t support that and secondly the evidence was that the cannabis grown by Pat had actually caused a great deal of good. Inevitably she added ‘including psychosis’. It’s appalling how media misinformation has fixed this false idea into mainstream thinking.

The judge also called Pat ‘naïve’, thinking that disclosing to her that he was taking a course in cannabis cultivation would help his case. Eventually, she said that she was taking seven years as the starting point for his sentence but that in view of his previous good character, guilty plea and ‘material assistance’ to the investigation she would reduce it to five years with the final two suspended.

A brutal and widely disproportionate sentence 

I have looked at the case reports and though I hate to say it, under Irish law, it is the correct sentence. I think she was as lenient as she could be. If she had gone further, the prosecution would have appealed.

Of course, to any fair-minded, properly informed, decent person, it is brutal, wildly disproportionate to any harm caused and has tragic consequences not only for Pat but for Ali and their two children.

The law is a bad law for which there is no justification. The Section 15A sentencing mandate is obscene. The valuation placed on the cannabis by the gardai is absurd, although even a correct valuation would not have been below the €13,000 threshold.

I don’t think the judge is to blame. I don’t even think Pat’s barrister is to blame. The blame lies squarely with the Oireachtas, with the ministers, senators and TDs who have allowed this dreadful, useless law to remain in force. Specifically, the buck stops at the door of Helen McEntee TD, Fine Gael’s Minister for Justice. She bears responsibility for a sentence that in my opinion is sadistic and which, without doubt, will achieve nothing at all except misery for Pat and his family and massive wasted costs borne by the taxpayer.

There are good grounds to believe that cannabis may be decriminalised in Ireland within the next year or two. Inevitably, thereafter it will be legalised and regulated but even then, unlicensed cultivation and sale would probably remain an offence, although unlikely to result in jail at the scale of Pat’s activity.

Hopefully, despite this conviction, Pat will be able to play a part in a future legitimate cannabis industry in Ireland. For now, I think of him in Limerick Prison as the temperatures plummet to a five-year low, of his unwell patients seeking an alternative supply of medicine and of Ali and the children with a cold, bitter hole in their lives.

Peter Reynolds

Peter Reynolds is a writer, consultant and expert in the science, medicine, law and politics of cannabis. He is president of cannabis reform group, CLEAR and chair of the Ireland working group for the Cannabis Industry Council. 

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