Jailed drug producer taught kids how to maintain crop
A LISMORE photographer caught up in one of Australia's biggest marijuana crops at Inglewood has an "impressive reputation" as a solid worker and a family man.
But Kristen Gardner's array of references from the Lismore region could not convince the Queensland Court of Appeal that he should spend less time behind bars.
Appeal court president Margaret McMurdo said Gardner's persistent involvement over many years in the large-scale commercial production of marijuana is recognised in both Queensland and NSW laws as serious criminal conduct warranting stern penalties to ensure personal and general deterrence.
Gardner was sentenced in Queensland to five years jail with parole eligibility set for November 23 this year, after 15 months behind bars, for his involvement in his father Michael Gardner's Inglewood crop.
Gardner Snr, who claimed he was selling drugs to fund a national campaign against abortion, was sentenced to 13 years jail for producing the crop on the remote property between 2004 and 2008.
He recruited his stepchildren, aged 11-14, to plant seedlings and tend to thousands of plants when they should have been at school.
Though many fields had been harvested, police still found 22,000 plants and 3.59 tonnes of harvested dried marijuana during a 2008 raid.
The blackmarket value of what was left amounted to almost $70 million.
Gardner Jnr, who was aged between 28 and 32 at the time, was involved in teaching the children how to maintain the plants and was recording their work for a documentary film he hoped to produce.
But Gardner Jnr also had subsequently cultivated a huge marijuana crop in northern NSW in 2010 to fund lawyers for his family's legal representation for the Inglewood charges.
There were 900 plants and 132kg of the drug ready for market in NSW.
He was sentenced to four and a half years jail with a non-parole period of two years and three months.
In a judgment handed down on Friday, Justice McMurdo said Gardner Jnr had a dysfunctional relationship with his violent and manipulative father and felt obliged to help with the crop.
But she said the sentencing judge could have handed down a more lenient sentence but the total nine and a half years for the offending in both states was neither manifestly excessive nor crushing.
"The applicant, during three quite separate periods, involved himself in producing large quantities of cannabis for commercial gain," she said.
"I have considerable sympathy for the applicant who, to his credit, appears to have made an honest, lawful life for himself and his dependant wife and young children since his release on parole.
"This is commendable given his very significant disadvantages in life."