A Winmalee Dad facing police charges after juicing home grown cannabis to treat his seriously ill daughters, has pleaded not guilty in Penrith Local Court today [Friday March 23].
Stephen Taylor, 64, was charged with cultivating a prohibited plant and two counts of possessing a prohibited plant, after police removed 107 plants from his rented home on December 8 last year. He told the Gazette he entered the not guilty plea “on the grounds of medical necessity”.
Mr Taylor spent more than five years watching daughters Morgan, now 21, and Ariel, 25, suffer from the chronic auto-immune condition Crohn's Disease before deciding to grow cannabis in his backyard to help them. The sisters were repeatedly hospitalised with the condition and had serious side effects from pharmaceutical drugs. Ariel had her colon removed and Morgan currently has a stoma bag attached to her small intestine.
Yesterday after entering a not guilty plea, Stephen Taylor told assembled media outside the court that it was the first step in his court journey but he was pleased to have his bail reporting conditions revoked. It meant he no longer had to report weekly to Springwood Police.
On defending the case he said: “I honestly believe it’s our human right, it’s proven worldwide and there are so many other families who are hoping to access cannabis, that’s what we’re fighting for. We will get to the truth behind it.”
Sally McPherson, a solicitor from Northern NSW, who is representing the family for free, told the court Mr Taylor “was not a flight risk and had strong ties to the community” when she successfully applied for his bail conditions to be revoked.
“He’s a man who will clearly do anything for his family and is not about to skip town. He’s got an unblemished criminal history.”
Ms McPherson said the Director of Public Prosecutions had “elected not to get involved” in the case, so it would be dealt with in the local courts, meaning jail time was now less likely.
One of Australia’s leading barristers, the former chair of the Australian Republican Movement and adviser to Julian Assange and Wikileaks, Greg Barns, has also offered to defend Mr Taylor pro bono, in what promises to be a landmark legal battle over medical marijuana. There are only two other cases before the Australian courts about the issue.
Barrister Greg Barns, said his “interest in the case and offer to assist pro bono is because it is outrageous that in Australia today we criminalise those who use and provide substances like cannabis which are clearly of benefit to many in our community”.
Mr Taylor, with wife Karen, started researching the uses of medicinal cannabis when they could not find a doctor willing to take on the extensive Therapeutic Goods Administration process to legally access medicinal cannabis.
“The girls nearly died many times … what do you do?” Mrs Taylor told the Gazette earlier this month.
“It was our medicine for them. It was the only thing we could do. We chose juicing because of the greater access to the healing cannabinoids than more common forms of medicating,” she added.
Mr Taylor said: "A couple of times I carried Morgan into hospital weighing around 32 kilograms — actually carrying her in my arms and crying. If they want to send me to jail they can, but we are seriously going to fight this.”
“Any good parents, if they had been through what we have been though would have asked what are we left to do?” Mr Taylor added.
After several weeks of drinking 90ml each of raw juiced cannabis every day, the girls were recovering and Morgan went “into remission” last year, Mr Taylor said.
Doctors are divided about access to medicinal cannabis which was legalised in Australia in 2016.
Iain McGregor, professor of Psychopharmacology at the Lambert Initiative For Cannabinoid Therapeutics at Sydney University, spoke to the ABC’s 7.30 Report who profiled the case, and said juicing cannabis was not at all like smoking the plant.
He said the release of THCA [tetrahydocannabinolic acid] from the juicing had “very strong anti-inflammatory properties in the gut”.
Other sources the family found online, including American Dr William Courtney, said “unheated it [cannabis] is not psychoactive” and is “tissue repairing and helps the auto immune system”.
But others doctors, such as addiction specialist and member of the Royal Australasian College of Physicians, Adrian Reynolds, are concerned that while “there may be a benefit but there may be a risk and a harm”.
NSW Opposition Health spokesman Walt Secord has said while in Canada and Israel, there are tens of thousands of patients getting lawful access to medicinal cannabis. In NSW, there are less than 50 patients receiving medicinal cannabis by prescription from their doctors.
“We could have gone the easy road, but we want to fight,” daughter, Morgan, said outside the court. “I’m still stressed, but a bit relieved after today.”
Magistrate Georgia Knight adjourned the case until April 11. She said she was familiar with Mr Taylor’s story having “read it in the Gazette”. Mr Barns will appear for Mr Taylor on April 11 and a date will be set for hearing.