Cannabis user diagnosed with cancer gets suspended sentence

Rick Riechelmann (60) was sentenced to 21-months imprisonment for possession of cannabis seized at his home in Fangaloto. The sentence was fully suspended after the judge considered the health issues the defendant faced. He admitted he was smoking cannabis for pain relief and taking it palliatively.

Hon Mr Justice Cooper sentenced him this month at the Nuku’alofa Supreme Court, after he pleaded guilty.

On March 24, this year Police raided the defendant’s home address in Fangaloto, acting under the authority of the warrant issued to search for illicit drugs.

The judge said on being told why they were there, the defendant informed the police they would find cannabis and utensils.

“He explained that he is suffering from stage 4 cancer and they later recovered a letter from his doctor in Australia confirming that diagnosis and setting out his medication.

“The fact is that Mr Riechelmann is in an advanced stage of this disease and he was smoking cannabis for pain relief and taking it palliatively. He admitted to the police, during the search, what he had done,” said the judge.

Meanwhile, the total weight of cannabis plants recovered was 170.32 grams and 8.41 grams of seeds.

The judge said, this case presented a dilemma over the weight of cannabis as while, the plants and branches were said to weigh 170.32 grams, that was not the weight of usable drugs. The branches would not be able to be used, and there was no indication that the leaves were dried to the required state so as to be smoked.

“The possession of the plants equates more closely with cases of cannabis cultivation,” he said.

Taking all this together, the medical situation the defendant faces, his early guilty plea and the issue of the weights, I find that this case falls outside the scope of other cannabis cases that have been before these courts.”

He said, the comparable sentences to do with weight of cannabis, weight of plant or number or weight of seeds become eclipsed by the health issues this defendant faces and why he was using this illegal drug.

“The court in no way encourages or advocates the use of illegal drugs and it is to be deplored. But, in this situation a prison sentence is not merited in my view when I take together all the factors I have identified.”

He then sentenced him to 21-months imprisonment which was fully suspended for a year.

The drugs and paraphernalia were forfeited to be destroyed.

“Any breach is to be reserved to me,” said the judge.

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