Meet the 71-year-old drug dealer

STUFF
Great Granny Dawn Danby's dope dealing could see her kicked out of the same house she's been sentenced to serve home detention in.

On Friday the 71-year-old was sentenced at Tauranga District Court to a year's home detention and 300 hours community work on charges of growing, selling and possessing cannabis for supply between October 2006 and February 2007.

Now police want to take her Paeroa home a cute hillside house surrounded by well-kept gardens and littered with pot-plants which Danby says was bought legitimately and has been mortgage-free for more than 15 years.

Police have a restraining order on the property and want it forfeited to the Crown at a Proceeds of Crime hearing.

Danby a typical grandmother with walking stick and glasses told Sunday News the prospect of losing her home was "like a bad dream".

"I love it here.

"This is my home," she said.

"It (the potential forfeiture of her home) is ridiculous. It's crazy and out of all proportion.

"I wasn't too worried when I was arrested ... it's what has happened since that scares me.

"I didn't realise that jeopardy was there. I never realised my house was at risk."

Despite her convictions, Danby maintains she never sold cannabis or helped kick-start other growers' crops by selling them plants she had cloned.

She said she and her co-accused 64-year-old Douglas McKinney, her boarder for 23 years needed the dope for pain relief.

Danby, who maintained she was a law-abiding citizen, said she had not tried cannabis until she was 66 and only did so because conventional medicines did not work on her.

She was in agony before having a pelvic floor operation and was "very intolerant" of prescription pain relief and anti-inflammatories.

After the operation failed, she was riddled with so much pain she soon decided not only to smoke cannabis but also to grow it.

Until then, she and McKinney had "bought tinnies".

The cost of cannabis and fears over what other growers might have "sprayed" the product with also motivated the decision.

Danby, who also has osteoarthritis and sleep apnoea caused by obstruction of the airways, said she needed instant pain relief.

"And you don't get that with anything. You take paracetamol or something and it takes half an hour.

"You take cannabis and it works within 15 seconds if inhaled."

Danby said she made an educated choice to use the Class C drug.

She is a former trainee pharmacist and pharmacy owner and her family had a history of using the alternative medicine.

Before their deaths Danby's mother and sister, both registered nurses, had used cannabis her mother to cure respiratory problems and her sister to ease pain before her death.

McKinney declined to speak to Sunday News but Danby said he had used cannabis for several years to help him cope with a "badly damaged leg that caused him chronic and severe pain".

Taking cannabis as pain relief affects users differently to those who take it recreationally, Danby said.

She said cannabis gave her the strength to maintain a working life which consisted of doing Maori land research, counselling, English tutoring and selling Hosta plants at her local markets.

"When you're in pain, the THC and all the other compounds act on that pain so you don't get that heavy stoned effect," she said.

"You also get the well-being feeling and you're able to carry on doing a day's work."

At Friday's sentencing, Tauranga District Court Judge Peter Rollo said he believed Danby had used cannabis for pain relief but doubted it was as effective as she made out.

"You had a very full life, despite mature years, quite inconsistent with the amount of pain you should have been in and quite inconsistent with the amount of cannabis you told the jury you used on a daily basis," the judge said.

During Danby's February trial, police said if she and McKinney had not sold any cannabis during one 13-month period alone, they would have had to have smoked more than 8300 cannabis joints which was almost 20 a day.

But when that figure was put to her, Danby told the court: "We still found between harvest and the next one that we were afraid of running out. The amounts we were using were well within international guidelines for pain relief."

But Judge Rollo said Danby had been "less than economical" with the truth during her trial and had given the court a "rather untruthful account" of her offending. She was an "enigma" who broke several drug-dealing stereotypes.

During their February, 2007 raid on Danby's home, police found 12 cannabis

plants growing in pots behind the house, 11 cannabis clones being grown under light inside the home and five further cannabis seedlings in the garden.

Almost two ounces were found divided between several containers in the house.

More than $9000 cash was taken from Danby and a stack of $20 bills from McKinney after police spotted him trying to bury them in the garden.

In sentencing Danby, Judge Rollo said the most telling piece of evidence police collected during the raid was Danby's diary, detailing harvest yields as far back as September 2004, growing methods, "tick lists" of customer debts and payments, and lists of products used to boost the drugs' growth.

Danby claims none of the transactions related to cannabis sales.

Danby was only charged for growing between October 2006 and February 2007.

"You were caught red-handed with all the incriminating evidence present," Judge Rollo said.

Danby said although she was feeling the weight of the law "her community" never judged her.

"Not one person," she said. "The first thing everyone does is laugh.

"Thinking has moved on to do with cannabis and it's like, if you're using it, like I said I was using it for pain relief, they're respectful of that."

Sitting in a padded arthritis support chair at her home, Danby said the main lesson in her arrest was "don't grow in your own back yard".

Danby started growing cannabis with seeds she had collected from "tinnies" and used her garage, which she claims was already in use for her perennial Hosta plants.

"It wasn't difficult ... because I had a lot of plant knowledge. What was new for me was growing indoors," Danby said.

"But I was several months ahead with my Hostas when I started (growing cannabis), so it was whatever I had learned with them I could just transfer over to the cannabis."

By the time police raided Danby's home she had ceased the indoor operation in favour of growing in her back garden, a decision motivated more by fears her crop would be stolen than the possibility of arrest.

"It was nerve-racking growing it down there (in the shed) because every time a car pulls up at night you're worried about whether people have worked out that you've got it there," Danby said.

"You know there are a lot of people in the district that would just steal it."

Despite her conviction, Danby believes most people consider laws banning cannabis are "a waste of time".

She says the drug needs to be regulated, not prohibited.

She firmly believes cannabis should also be available for medicinal purposes.

A Ministry of Health spokesman earlier this week said the ministry does "not support the smoking of any part of the cannabis plant for medical purposes".

The Ministry does however support Sativex, a mouth spray containing cannabis, and since gaining approval last year the ministry has allowed five applicants to use it.

McKinney was also sentenced at Tauranga District Court on Friday to one year's home detention and 300 hours community work on the same charges Danby faced. A suitable home detention address however couldn't be found, so his sentencing will be concluded next month.