(Acquittal of father who used drug to alleviate back pain may hasten legalisation, WRITES RUSSELL JENKINS)
A MAN who admitted smoking cannabis to relieve chronic back pain has been cleared by a jury at Manchester Crown Court of any drug offence.
The jury acquitted Colin Davies, 30, a former joiner, from Brinnington, Manchester, after he told them that he smoked four home-grown joints a day instead of taking legally prescribed painkillers.
Mr Davies, who has two children and who defended himself, began cultivating cannabis plants in his flat after breaking his back when he fell 60 feet from a bridge near his home in Stockport four years ago.
He survived after lengthy treatment in hospital but now walks with a limp and is in constant pain. He said the various treatments prescribed by doctors prompted spasms and sickness and he had turned to the drug in desperation.
Police arrested him last November, seizing 18 cannabis plants hidden behind a partition in his bedroom, but a jury took only 40 minutes to find him not guilty of cultivating cannabis under the 1971 Misuse of Drugs Act.
Mr Davies said outside court that he intended to carry on smoking cannabis. "I felt fantastic that the jury had listened to me. It was a just verdict," he said.
"It is a mistake when even the BMA [British Medical Association] has said the police and courts should think before prosecuting people for using cannabis on medical grounds."
Matthew Atha, principal consultant of the Independent Drugs Monitoring Unit and one of three medical experts called upon by Mr Davies to provide evidence, said the verdict would bring closer the day when cannabis use for medical purposes is legalised.
He said: "The priority is to make sure those with legitimate medical reasons are not turned into criminals. A not guilty verdict means the jury thinks the law is an ass and they are more sensitive to the needs of people who need to use cannabis for medical reasons than the Government."
Mr Davies's solicitor, James Riley, described the case as ground-breaking. "It will heap further pressure on the Government to follow recommendations from the BMA to allow the prescription of cannabis to aid the treatment of chronic pain," he said.
At the start of the one-day hearing Ian Metcalfe, for the prosecution, said Mr Davies knew what he was doing was illegal and told the jury: "You have taken an oath to give a true verdict according to the law. That is all the Crown asks. You have a duty to return a guilty verdict."
However, Mr Davies said that large intakes of prescribed paracetamol and codeine provoked spasms that left him hospitalised. He had read about cannabis as a pain reliever and decided to buy some from a street dealer.
He said he did not like doing this so he decided to try growing his own plants at home, purely for his own use for the purposes of pain relief. "I chose something else out of desperation," Mr Davies said. "I am offering a defence of necessity. What choice did I have? The only choice from doctors is more pain killers." Brian Todd, a consultant orthopaedic surgeon, confirmed in a statement that Mr Davies suffered multiple spinal injuries and rib fractures, spending two months in hospital.
Allan Gilman, his family doctor, said in a statement that he had seen Mr Davies move into spasm because of the pain on several occasions. He remained in extreme difficulty and had been referred to a pain clinic, he said.
Mr Atha, who has been invited to give evidence to a House of Lords Select Committee inquiry into cannabis use, told the jury that a BMA report published last November had called for the rescheduling of cannabis to allow for the drug to be made available for chronic pain relief.
After the verdict Mr Davies asked whether the confiscated cannabis plants could be returned. Judge Barry Woodward told him that he should look to his solicitor for advice.
"If you cultivate cannabis again and come before the courts, another jury may return a different verdict," the judge said.
Cultivation of cannabis attracts a maximum sentence of 14 years imprisonment, but Home Office guidelines suggest a fine of up to £5,000 for those who grow small quantities for personal use.
A spokesman for the Crown Prosecution Service said: "We prosecute the law as it is, not as it may be in the future."
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