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02/11/2007 00:00:00

Scotland: Judges given cannabis guidelines

Scottish judges have been given tough new sentencing guidelines in a bid
to crack down on cannabis farms.

Scotland's senior judge said the move was needed to tackle a big
increase in the farms, which are often set up by organised gangs in
rented homes.

Lord Hamilton, the Lord Justice General, said even low level cannabis
"gardeners" should expect to face between four and five years in prison.

Cannabis plants worth £10m have been seized from illegal farms this year.

Higher sentences for the crime - which carries a maximum sentence of 14
years imprisonment - will be reserved for those involved at a more
sophisticated level or repeat offenders.

Guilty pleas would see a reduction in the length of the prison sentence

The guidance came as Lord Hamilton, sitting with Lord Nimmo Smith and
Lord Carloway, rejected an appeal by failed Chinese asylum seeker Zhi
Pen Lin against a jail sentence of three years and nine months for
producing cannabis.

Lord Hamilton said: "The courts must seek to deter individuals from
lending their services to such activity - even where offenders are in
circumstances where the pressure on them to participate may be heavy.

"The illegal cultivation of cannabis by organised criminals on a
substantial commercial scale appears to be a relatively new phenomenon
in Scotland."

The appeal judges heard that since a police operation was launched in
December 2006 thousands of cannabis plants had been seized with an
estimated yield worth more than £10m on the streets.

More than 50 people have been arrested, mainly of Chinese or Vietnamese
nationality. Rented houses were often used to produce the drug crop.

Lord Hamilton said there had been "a degree of disparity" in sentences,
at least in the High Court, handed down to those involved in a
relatively minor way.

Most of those dealt with had been "foot soldiers" in the drug
operations, tending crops under cultivation.

Fled China

He said, as a significant number of other cases were likely to come
before the courts, it was appropriate that there should be guidance over

Lin, 32, was caught tending a crop of 849 cannabis plants worth £84,900
at a house in South Street, Forfar.

The five-room bungalow had been leased from its owner. When police
forced entry in March this year they found the whole house apart from
the kitchen was devoted to growing the drug.

The curtains were closed and doors and floors covered with plastic
sheeting. Elaborate electrical cabling had been laid to supply heat and
light to the plants.

Lin said he had been approached by a man to stay at the house and water
some plants.

The court heard he had fled China and paid money to a "snakehead" gang
to make the journey to Britain.

The first offender had come to realise that he was involved in a drugs
operation at the house in Scotland, but had no other option than to do
what was asked of him as he had no other source of income, a roof over
his head or food.

Lawyers acting for Lin challenged the sentence imposed on him claiming
it was excessive.

But the appeal judges said: "While the sentence imposed might be
described as on the severe side, it is not in our view excessive."

Author: BBC News via UKCIA

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