Drug grower, 75, sentenced to jail
AN ELDERLY man who produced a 3000-plant cannabis crop in state forest adjacent to his Biggenden property will spend just eight months behind bars because of his failing health.
Clarence Joseph Ward was sentenced in Maryborough Supreme Court to three-and-a-half years in jail but the term will be suspended after he serves eight months in prison.
Justice David Boddice took into account Ward’s medical conditions when sentencing the 75-year-old.
Ward started growing the drugs in late 2006 with the help of his carer Toni Ann Holmes and her partner, Ward’s former employee Richard Zerek.
Holmes and Zerek were sentenced in 2009 for their part in the offence. Both were sentenced to jail terms.
Police uncovered the huge crop in January 2007: they found 2982 plants ranging in height from 20cm to five metres.
The crop was being watered by an irrigation system fed from a dam on Ward’s property.
Crown prosecutor Greg Cummings said the street value of the drugs was up to $700,000, much less than initial estimates of several million dollars.
“By the time it’s dried, cut and packaged there is a large variation as to what it could be worth,” he said.
Defence barrister Paul Smith said Ward’s poor health should be taken into account when sentencing.
Ward had already suffered two strokes, undergone two knee replacement operations and had diabetes, cholesterol and hearing problems and relied on a walking stick.
Mr Smith tendered reports from several doctors and health services as well as a personal reference.
Ward’s brother and sister were in the courtroom to support him throughout the proceedings.
Mr Smith said Ward felt he was under the influence of Ms Holmes during the offence period and had never been in trouble with the law before.
Justice David Boddice let Ward sit down during his sentencing remarks because he was so unsteady on his feet.
“Your medical conditions will make it harder for you to serve time in a correctional centre,” Justice Boddice said.
“These are very serious offences. It involved a number of plots and thousands of plants. It was a large and sophisticated operation.”
Ward was sentenced to three-and-a-half years jail and will be released on June 7, 2011.
The remainder of the sentence was suspended for an operational period of four years.