Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Canadian Pot grower fights to save her home

Former North Vancouver realtor insists forfeiture rules should only apply to members of organized crime

Janice Tibbetts
Canwest News Service

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

OTTAWA -- Judy Ann Craig, a former realtor with a golden touch for gardening, will try to convince the Supreme Court of Canada on Thursday that being forced to forfeit her North Vancouver home for running a marijuana growing-operation is extreme punishment for her crime.

Craig is one of three Canadians -- two from B.C. and one from Quebec -- challenging the seizure of homes in which they grew pot, a penalty that is increasingly levied following changes six years ago to federal drug laws.

The 58-year-old horticulturalist contends that running a small-scale operation, mainly in her basement, should not warrant the same harsh penalties imposed for large, sophisticated businesses controlled by organized crime.

"Forfeiture of a residence of someone at retirement age with no record is severe and destroys hope of rehabilitation," Craig's lawyer, Howard Rubin, argues in a Supreme Court brief that describes her as "a minor cog in a broader sociological problem."

Craig, who says she started growing marijuana at the urging of an HIV-infected friend a decade ago, pleaded guilty in 2003 after police seized 186 marijuana plants.

She received a conditional sentence and a $115,000 fine, but since she had no other assets and owed $250,000 in unpaid taxes from her ill-gotten earnings, the court ordered the forfeiture of her small two-storey home. It was valued at $460,000 at the time of her 2005 sentencing.

Craig's lawyer will argue that federal forfeiture laws for drug crimes should not apply to Craig, whom he described in court testimony as an "independent" entrepreneur.

The B.C. Court of Appeal, in ruling against Craig, said she was the operator of "a successful commercial operation that grossed over $100,000 a year."

Craig testified in court that she started growing marijuana in 1998 because she was depressed from her divorce several years earlier and "I needed a challenge to kick-start me out of this state." She said that she used her earnings to beautify her clematis-enveloped garden that was featured in a 2002 edition of Gardens West magazine.

The Crown rejects Craig's assertion that forfeiture of her house is too harsh.

"Although the substance was marijuana and not a more dangerous substance like cocaine or heroin, the (courts) in British Columbia have accepted that grow operations in residential neighbourhoods present significant dangers to the community," says a court brief from federal lawyers Francois Lacasse and Paul Riley.

Craig ran a commercial operation in which she employed "hired hands" and sold marijuana in ounce, half-pound and one-pound quantities, generating hundreds of thousands of dollars in illegal revenue over five years, says the brief.

The Crown says that Parliament amended the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act in 2002 to mandate seizure of "offence-related property" to reflect society's "abhorrence" for the social problems associated with the drug trade.

The bench will also weigh in Thursday in the appeal of Kien Tam Nguyen, who was ordered to forfeit his Surrey home after he was found guilty of running a marijuana grow-operation. In another case on the same day, the court will decide if the Quebec Court of Appeal was right to order the partial forfeiture of Yves Ouellette's home after he was convicted of growing pot.

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