A man found growing 59 cannabis plants in his backyard outside Castlemaine has escaped a jail sentence.
The 43-year-old pleaded guilty in the Bendigo County Court on Tuesday to cultivating a commercial quantity of the drug, but did not face any trafficking charges.
The court heard police raided his property in Sandon, south of Newstead, on February 2 following a tip-off from a member of the public.
Prosecutor David Cordy told the court the man made full admissions to growing more than 120 kilograms of the plants from seeds he planted in September 2015 for his personal use in the management of back pain.
Mr Cordy said there was no sophisticated hydroponic setup at the property and no evidence of trafficking.
Defence counsel Andrew Madden said his client ingested the cannabis to treat prolapsed discs in his back and to self-medicate following “significant” childhood trauma.
Mr Madden said he used the majority of the plants to manufacture an oil, with between two and three kilograms required to produce five to 10 milliliters.
He said his client pleaded guilty to the offending at the “earliest possible stage” and was “petrified” at the prospect of going to jail and being unable to care for his two young daughters.
The court heard the children’s mother, the accused’s partner of almost 20 years, died suddenly and unexpectedly in her sleep in April, and his youngest daughter had since become “fretful about him disappearing”.
“He could have no better motivation to not reoffend than the prospect of going to prison,” Mr Madden said.
In convicting the man and placing him on a three-year community corrections order, judge Irene Lawson acknowledged the “unique set of factors” present in the case as well as his full co-operation with police.
Judge Lawson said “at first glance” his actions could be categorised as a serious example of the type of offending, but noted the prosecution’s acceptance the cannabis was for personal use and the lack of evidence it was being cultivated for commercial gain.
In declining to impose a jail term, Judge Lawson said she took into account the accused’s spotless prior history, good character and early guilty pleas.
She said while hardship was not usually a consideration in sentencing, the “exceptional circumstances” in the case meant the court could exercise its discretion in taking into account the man’s partner’s death and his “extensive” childhood trauma.
Judge Lawson also noted the children were performing “exceptionally well” at school under his supervision as a sole carer, describing it as “a tribute to your care”.
She said his prospects of rehabilitation were “excellent” and it was unlikely he would re-offend.