A Perth woman caught selling synthetic cannabis from her Innaloo gift shop has avoided jail after waiting 31/2 years to be sentenced because of confusion surrounding synthetic drug laws.
When police raided Vivienne Hill’s Morris Place store Chuffed Gifts and More in May 2013, they seized 4.6kg of “green leafy material”, $12,000 in cash and a further $250,000 at her Bayswater home.
After an extensive analysis of the material, it was found 927g contained the banned psychoactive substance UR-144.
Hill pleaded guilty to possessing a synthetic cannabinomimetic with the intent to sell or supply. A cannabinomimetic substance has similar effects to cannabis.
She was not convicted in relation to the remainder of the material because the prosecution could not prove it was illegal.
The maximum sentence for that offence is up to 25 years jail and a fine up to $100,000, but District Court Judge Michael Gething last month gave Hill a 12-month suspended jail term and a $25,000 fine, partly because of the “significant delay” between her being charged and sentenced.
“You’ve had this offence hanging over you for a period of three years and in particular hanging over you the very real prospect of going to prison,” Judge Gething said.
The $262,000 was returned to Hill after it was found the money was proceeds of her legitimate business.
Prosecutor Hannah Milligan said the State had grappled with what was a “fairly new type of prosecution” because the law surrounding the prohibition of synthetic cannabinomimetics was different to the law surrounding other illicit substances.
Ms Milligan said the delay was also because prosecutors needed to obtain an expert neuropharmacological report to establish whether the chemical compounds were prohibited.
Hill’s lawyer Mark Andrews said his client did not set out deliberately to sell illegal drugs and went to “considerable lengths” to ensure the products she stocked were lawful, however she relied solely on information from her suppliers.
Mr Andrews said his client was not prosecuted for a majority of the material because she was charged when synthetic drug manufacturers were playing a “cat-and-mouse” game with the government by tweaking chemical compounds as soon as they were banned.
“I think it’s fair to say that most of that delay, and no criticism is levelled at the State for this because it was an uncertain area of the law, is attributable to the fact that there was some confusion over the prevailing lawful position,” he said. “So of course if our legislatures and prosecutors and courts are somewhat confused about the true position, one can readily understand how someone like Ms Hill could likewise be led into error in relation to whether a substance is prohibited or not.”
State Parliament passed new legislation in October 2015 to clamp down on the sale and supply of synthetic drugs, closing the legal loophole exploited by manufacturers.
The new laws banned the sale, supply, manufacture, advertising and promotion of any psychoactive substance that was not already captured by existing legislation.