A WOMAN who was supplying an underground cannabis culture in Otago was a valued member of the community who gave any proceeds of her drug-dealing to charity, a court was told yesterday.
A letter signed by 37 Naseby residents ''implored'' Judge Stephen Coyle not to jail Denise Lorraine Barnett, 59, who was appearing for sentencing in the Alexandra District Court.
Barnett, described by counsel Kieran Tohill as a ''local icon'', admitted possessing cannabis for supply, possessing a pipe to consume cannabis and cultivating cannabis, in Naseby on February 7.
She was sentenced to 350 hours' community work, 12 months' supervision and ordered to complete a drug and alcohol programme as directed by her probation officer.
The defendant was so unwell she was in a wheelchair for her court appearance yesterday and jail would be a ''cruel and harsh'' sentence, Judge Coyle said.
Mr Tohill said the letter from residents said they did not need to be protected from Barnett and they ''implored'' the judge to keep her out of jail.
The permanent population of Naseby was about 200 people so the letter represented a significant number, from all walks of life, supporting her, he said.
''I don't think I would have as many as 37 people sign a reference for me.''
Barnett did voluntary work in the community and people trusted her, he said.
''She does a number of good things in the community.''
Fifty mature cannabis plants and about 3.5kg of dried cannabis material were found at her property by police. Most was for her own use or to give away.
''This is not a sophisticated cannabis-dealing operation,'' Mr Tohill said.
Barnett had a troubled past.
She lived at Cherry Farm psychiatric institution as a teenager and had electroconvulsive therapy, then later ''lived on the street'' before shifting to Naseby, he said.
Prison was not warranted as she gained no real commercial value from her drug dealing - ''she's simply an eccentric woman who collects cannabis among the material she hoards''.
An electronically monitored sentence was not available as an option in Naseby. Judge Coyle said Barnett was clearly highly regarded in the community but the charges were serious.
She grew a large number of cannabis plants and ''then supplies an underground cannabis culture in the community'', he said.
The defendant kept some, supplied some to friends, gave some away and sold some, giving the proceeds to charity.
He accepted she was an important and valued member of the community, but said her eccentricity did not detract from the seriousness of her offending.
The unavailability of an electronically monitored option made sentencing difficult.
''It's a stark choice between prison or imposing a sentence on you which is woefully light in terms of consistency of the sentence that should be imposed ... ''
However, the court also had to be a court of humanity and the defendant was unwell.
Her health issues meant she would escape a jail term, Judge Coyle said.
- Otago Daily Times
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