POCA Act is being misused
By Richard Shrubb
A couple from the South West have been pursued under the Proceeds of Crime Act (POCA) for growing weed for personal use. Over zealous authorities claim that their French holiday home was bought with previous grows of cannabis when the couple say that they were busted for their first grow, and this for personal use – and have been convicted for that in Court. POCA means the police can seize someone’s assets and was designed to break international drugs rings. Sometimes, the Act can be misused.
Clare (not her real name) says “we had 12 plants growing in a bedroom when I had a nasty car accident. The police went round to inform my partner who wasn’t in. Somehow they got in and discovered the cannabis. I was arrested at 2 in the morning and they arrested by partner the following morning”.
Clare explains that her partner grew it to avoid local dealers who might sell hard drugs as well. She says “we were growing our own so we could have good quality cannabis without going to a dealer who might push other stuff on my partner”.
Several years ago Clare’s partner had come into some money when his grandmother died. With another couple he put in £10 000 into a holiday home in France. He then bought another home for himself for £30 000, partly funded by a Bridging Loan from a French bank with the other place as security on the loan. Clare says “he got a mortgage from a UK bank of another £30 000 to do the place up – this was just from his earnings as a carpenter and nothing to do with drugs”.
Sadly it was the French bank statements that interested the police. Clare tells NORML, “when they searched the house they found the bank statements and assumed that we were funding the investments with drugs.”
Over 12 months later the case went to Crown Court where the couple plead guilty for personal use. The CPS had agreed not to fight the guilty plea, though as it turns out “straight after sentencing the CPS said they had only agreed to on condition they could to a POCA on us” says Clare.
The lesson to this is if you are busted and agree a Guilty plea on a lesser charge, read the small print carefully! Clare and partner hadn’t picked up on this. Clare has no previous convictions and needs a clean sheet for her work as a care worker for vulnerable people. She’s no career criminal!
POCA is done through the Civil Courts so though you cannot be tried twice under the ancient rights of criminal proceedings you can be sued for the same crime that was proven in criminal court. The police, having proven the couple’s guilt, are suing them into penury.
Clare concludes “I don’t see how people can be convicted for personal use and be accused of having a criminal lifestyle!”
The police have gone to town on the couple, getting as high estimates on the partner’s property as they can – two pieces of land near his Mum’s house cannot be developed on so have no value yet the police seem to think they are worth £5000 each. The cannabis plants are “£1000 each” when their independent expert reckons the entire grow could be £5000, tops!
Clare laughed when I pointed out that good judges know their way around the drugs scene. Training for my MA in Falmouth I sat in on a Crown Court hearing where the police claimed that the Ecstasy tablets a dealer had were worth £10 each. The Judge basically said ‘I don’t know where you buy your E’s from but they cost about £2 each round here’!
Even so this bullying does happen. POCA does not differentiate between personal use or whether you’re a top end international drug dealer like Howard Marks. This couple, growing weed to keep away from dodgy drug dealers, are being treated by the system as if they were farming 100 tonnes of weed a year and were living in a large country house – not a rented cottage in a village in the South West.
The court is yet to hear their POCA case. It will happen in the next few months. Our hearts at NORML go out to them and wish them the best of luck.
Richard Shrubb is NORML UK press officer and a freelance journalist with a specific interest in medical science and sailing, for more info about Richard, see his web site www.richardshrubb.co.uk and you can follow Richard on Twitter #Shrubb