Judge hits out at new cannabis law

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A JUDGE has criticised new ‘soft’ sentencing guidelines after he was forced to give a cannabis grower a non-custodial sentence.

Judge Michael Murphy QC said that if 33-year-old Craig Cupit had appeared before him a few months ago he would have been sent to prison.

But new guidelines from the Sentencing Council for England and Wales, which come into effect later this month, now advise against jailing offenders in such cases.

Earlier this year, Sheffield’s top judge Judge Alan Goldsack QC warned all cannabis growers they would be sent to jail after a Court of Appeal ruling which told judges to get tough on culprits.

Judge Murphy, sitting at Sheffield Crown Court, said: “For weeks and months I have been saying in these courts that the production of cannabis in this area is at epidemic levels, yet here we are being given guidelines which completely dilute our powers.”

The judge said he was effectively bound by the new guidelines but added: “I don’t want to be but that is what the law says.”

He told Cupit: “If you had been in front of this court six months ago you would have been going to prison but the law has changed. Many of us find it difficult to understand why.”

Sentencing guidelines have been changed in an attempt to make courts more consistent in their sentencing.

The court heard police raided Cupit’s home in September 2011 and found a cannabis production set-up in his cellar.

Eight plants were growing which would have yielded and estimated 896 grammes of cannabis with a street value of £8,960.

Cupit, of New Station Road, Swinton, near Rotherham, admitted producing cannabis.

Dermot Hughes, defending, said he used the drug to alleviate pain in his knee which was in a ‘mess’.

Judge Murphy gave Cupit a 12-month community order with supervision by the probation service and ordered him to attend a victim awareness group.

In a separate case, the judge criticised the new guidelines as ‘confusing’ and a ‘lottery’ as he gave shop owner Neil Tyler, 53, a suspended jail term for producing cannabis.

Tyler, who runs an off-licence in Crookes, Sheffield, was caught growing £3,200 worth of the Class B drug in his cellar.

He said he used it to ease leg pain after being bitten by an insect in Mexico.

Judge Murphy said: “Given the confusion as to where he stands on this lottery, it seems to me it is not immediate custody although he passes the custody threshold.”

Tyler was given four months suspended for 12 and ordered to complete 120 hours of community work.