An ex-addict who had a potential £43,600 cannabis farm at his house in Padiham walked free from court after a judge said his case was exceptional.
Burnley Crown Court heard how 109 plants were being produced upstairs at the property in Bright Street, by 26-year-old Ashley Gregson, a former pupil of Clitheroe Royal Grammar School.
He claimed the drugs would have been for his own personal use and were a cost-cutting exercise. The defendant, who told police the humidity was so great in the rooms he had to sleep downstairs, later owned up to producing cannabis on the basis he would have sold any excess to friends for no profit.
Gregson, said to have now kicked his 10-year habit and who works 12 hours-a-day, six days-a-week, as well as being his mother’s carer, could have been facing up to five years behind bars. Instead he received a community order, with 300 hours unpaid work.
Recorder Guy Mathieson said he was prepared to take what many would say was a very lenient course, based purely on the facts of the defendant’s case.
Mr Stephen Parker (prosecuting) said when police arrived at the property on December 17th last year, Gregson claimed he did not have a key, but eventually said: “Okay, I’ll come clean. There is cannabis in there and I have a key at my sister’s, just up the road.”
Police discovered 109 plants in the front upstairs bedrooms. They described 53 plants as being of medium size and 56 were smaller plants, or cuttings. One of the rooms was a nursery, the windows were covered and lighting and heating was being used. Mr Parker said the potential street value of all the plants was £43,600.
Mr Parker said Gregson had pleaded guilty on the basis he was a heavy cannabis user at the time and began growing the plants for his own use, as he spent a lot of money with dealers. He said he did not expect to be as successful as he was and had far more cannabis than he could use himself. As some of his friends were also users, he decided to carry on and any excess could have been sold to them at cost price.
Mr Parker said the defendant claimed: “I would not have charged commercial rates and would have only sold to my friends who already use it.”
Miss Rachel Cooper (defending) said Gregson had been smoking cannabis since he was 16, but in January this year had quit altogether.
Miss Cooper said the defendant shouldered a heavy burden and, if he was sent to prison, it would have a devastating effect on his mother. He no longer associated with people who took drugs. The barrister added: “He is somebody for whom the rehabilitation has already taken place.”
Passing sentence, Recorder Mathieson told Gregson he had been growing a “quite astonishing” amount of cannabis.
He told the defendant: “I am faced with a very difficult dilemma, as to whether I sentence the offence of the offender.”
The judge continued: “The pre-sentence report, rightly described as a glowing report, with everything that is urged on your behalf, makes it very difficult to consider there is any benefit to society, other than the punishment level, in sending you to prison.
“Make no mistake about it, you are not getting away with this, in any way, shape or form.”
Recorder Mathieson warned Gregson that if he “messed up” the community order, he would be back in court and there would be no second chances. He continued: “Many people will say you don’t deserve the one chance you are getting today. Don’t let me down, don’t let yourself down, don’t let your mother down.”