MS patient found not guilty of cultivating cannabis for medical use

Monday 6 January 2020

Tom Wainwright of Garden Court represented Lesley Gibson, instructed by Tayab Ali of ITN Solicitors.

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Carlisle Court acquitted an MS patient today of cultivating cannabis, following the Crown Prosecution Service’s decision not to offer evidence in court today on a public interest basis.

Lesley Gibson, 55, along with her husband Mark Gibson, were acquitted by Carlisle Crown Court of possession and cultivation of cannabis and not guilty verdicts were entered by the judge on the court record.

The case had been looming over the couple since January 2019 and at a court hearing in December 2019 the CPS decided to send the case to trial in January 2020. The defence submitted that the Gibsons had no option but to cultivate cannabis in their home to manage Lesley’s MS as Lesley was unable to access an NHS prescription, while the cost of a private prescription was prohibitive. The Gibsons were acquitted today with the crown offering no evidence and deciding it was not in the public interest to prosecute as Lesley once again has a private prescription for medicinal cannabis, bought at full cost.

There is evidence of a postcode lottery across the country in patient prosecutions for growing cannabis for medical use. At a recent parliamentary meeting organised by MPs, patients gave powerful testimony of living in fear of ‘the knock on the door from police’ and possible prosecution for illegally accessing the cannabis that has transformed their health and quality of life.

The Gibsons’ home was raided in January 2019 with Carlisle Police confiscating 10 baby cannabis plants and three homemade cannabis chocolate bars. While across the country many Police Forces have moved away from a heavy-handed approach to patients growing for medical reasons, Carlisle CPS decided to prosecute. The court case has taken a heavy toll on the Gibsons, with Lesley developing a sarcoma and receiving treatment to remove cancerous cells in November.

Lesley was represented by leading human rights solicitor Tayab Ali, and counsel Tom Wainwright of Garden Court Chambers. The defence team intended to argue at trial that Lesley was forced to break the law in order to alleviate the symptoms of her Multiple Sclerosis, fibromyalgia and hidradentis suppurativa. It was to be argued that this would be what any person in her situation could reasonably have been expected to do.

Today’s acquittal does not set a precedent which can be relied on by others in court and it remains an offence for people to use cannabis to treat their illnesses. Whilst Lesley’s case does not alter the current law, the case highlights that it is not in the public interest to prosecute patients who have no option but to use medicinal cannabis to treat themselves. Lesley’s legal team intends to ask the Director of Public Prosecutions to review their prosecution policy where people are found to be using cannabis to treat illnesses.

Lesley Gibson said:

“I’m pleased to be acquitted today but this case has been hanging over me for a year and the medicine that kept me well was taken by Police. I don’t want other patients to suffer the same. I hope the CPS will see sense and stop prosecuting patients.” 

Lesley’s solicitor Tayab Ali said:

“It can’t be right to prosecute a person who has no choice other than to use medicinal cannabis to alleviate serious symptoms of a condition such as Multiple Sclerosis. I cannot see a situation where it would be in the public interest to prosecute a person in such circumstances. As it remains a criminal offence to cultivate cannabis for medical use, the law needs to be reviewed so that we no longer put seriously ill people through the humiliation and trauma of a police raid, arrest and prosecution only for the prosecution to be later halted because it is, so obviously, not in the public interest to continue it. The law clearly needs to change.”

This case has been reported widely in the media including BBC, The Times and The Telegraph.

Tom Wainwright is a member of the Garden Court Chambers Crime Team

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