Next Monday, Jamie Blake and his partner Stephanie McKay are to stand trial in the Rockhampton Supreme Court over drug charges that could see them behind bars. The reason they’re facing prison is they were trying to help their autistic child.
Callum is the 5-year-old son of the couple who live in the Queensland town of Calliope. The boy suffers from autism. And his parents found that the administration of a particular mix of cannabis oil improves his quality of life.
So, Mr Blake was growing cannabis plants and producing oil in order to look after his sick son. These days, it’s well-known that medicinal cannabis can benefit a range of conditions, and in countries where it’s more accessible, it has been shown to be effective in treating autism.
However, once the Queensland police became aware of his homegrown operation, the cannabis medicine was seized, and the boy’s treatment was cut off.
And now his parents are facing a number of charges, which include the aggravated supply of a dangerous drug to a minor under 16. This offence carries a maximum penalty of 25 years behind bars, which the pair are liable to for administering a medicine that’s supposed to be legal in this country.
Something doesn’t add up
Currently, there’s a petition doing the rounds of the internet calling on Queensland authorities to stop arresting and prosecuting people for cannabis possession. And it’s specifically asking for the charges against Jamie and Stephanie -along with Deb Lynch and Maggie O’Rance – to be dropped.
According to the Illicit Drug Data Report 2016–17, Queensland far outnumbers all other jurisdictions in the country when it comes to cannabis arrests. And 90 percent of these are consumer arrests, which means they’re for small amounts.
It’s true that the federal government passed legislation legalising the production and distribution of medicinal cannabis in early 2016. However, the vast majority of the estimated 100,000 patients using these medicines can’t get a script or afford the exorbitant prices.
And now, the authorities are threatening a father and mother with prison for providing their son with a non-psychoactive substance that allowed him to enjoy his life in the same way that other young children his age do.
A seismic shift
Public perception of medicinal cannabis has completely shifted over the last half decade. Recent figures show that over 90 percent of Australians now support its use. And there are signs this change is being reflected in the judiciary.
Last Thursday, Dr Andrew Katelaris was found not guilty in the NSW District Court on a number of very serious charges, including the large commercial supply and manufacture of cannabis oil. He argued it was necessary to break the law in order to save patients’ lives.
Sydney Criminal Lawyers® spoke to Jamie Blake about the benefits cannabis oil has when it’s administered to his young son, the fact that he had no choice but to break the law in order to help him and his thoughts about the cannabis climate in Australia at present.
Firstly, you were providing your son Callum with cannabis medicine to treat his autism. Jamie, what sort of benefits does medicinal cannabis have for your son’s condition?
Unbelievable benefits. It gives him a sense of acceptance when you talk to him. When you ask him to do things, he accepts it the first time.
Instead of playing charades, he actually forms words and starts talking. You can actually have a conversation with him.
It’s very hard at the moment, because he hasn’t been medicated. He’s just going backwards. We don’t want to breach our Supreme Court bail.
So, he’s unable to have the medicine that makes him better at the moment?
Yes. Because the police have charged us and we’re going through court. If we administer him, we will breach our bail.
Around 13 months ago now, the police arrested you and your partner Stephanie over the cannabis medicine you were giving to your son. How did you come to the attention of the police?
We were dobbed in by a family friend. She dobbed us in for producing and making it into oil to supply to our son.
And so, the police came to your house and arrested you?
What did they find?
They found three small cannabis seedlings, about 30 centimetres in height.
To start with I declared my bong, my bowl and a half a gram bud that I had previously been smoking the night before. And I said, “That’s all I’m declaring. That’s the only drugs in my house.”
And when they found the cannabis plants, they said, “How come you didn’t declare that?” I said, “Simple, it’s medicine. It doesn’t get into a state of being a dangerous drug. It’s medicine.”
You’re up on charges for supplying an illicit substance to a minor.
I’m charged with aggravated supply of a dangerous drug to a minor under 16.
And that carries 25 years imprisonment?
And as well, you’re up for producing a dangerous drug and processing a dangerous drug?
Yes. And possess dangerous drug. And that’s all 15 years imprisonment.
So, considering the federal government has gone so far as to establish a legal medicinal cannabis system in this country – and even though this system doesn’t work, it still acknowledges that the medicine does – how do you feel about being charged like this for a drug which is basically legal?
I feel pretty annoyed about it. The fact that the cops didn’t listen the whole time I was telling them.
The fact that even if the attorney general or the health minister pulls some strings and gets Callum a prescription, they can’t fill it anyway, because they don’t have one of the oils on their scheme.
They do not have THCa. They have CBD. But, they do not have THCa. And that’s what he needs as well. He needs a mixed ratio of 3:1 of THCa and CBD.
And that’s what you can only get from a local homegrown producer?
Well, I don’t trust other oil makers. There’s a lot of people who say they’re oil makers, but they can’t make it.
I am my son’s quality control when it comes to that sort of thing. It’s my son’s life. I don’t put my son’s life in other people’s hands.
So, you were producing cannabis medicine, which was non-psychoactive.
Yes. He doesn’t get stoned. It’s classed around the world as a food.
You’ve already mentioned this. But, you tried to explain to authorities that you were treating your son’s condition with medicinal cannabis. What was their response?
The superintendent, who was ripping apart my setup with the medicine in it, said, “They say that life’s hard because they’ve got a son with autism. And they grow this to help him.” And then they ended up writing us up.
I spoke to the fellow that was writing the evidence down. He came over and I told him exactly how everything happens. He said, “How do you know you’re taking out the THC – the stuff that gets you stoned?”
I said, “It’s simple. I don’t let it get to that state. You have to decarb it to be able to turn it from THCa to THC. You need a lot of heat to do that.
We grow in an airconditioned room. We grow plants that are suitable for colder weather. And we harvest when the trichs are clear. And we use cold water extraction and dry ice extraction. So, there’s no heat involved, and it does not get turned into psychoactive material.”
I told him the benefits of what my son gets out of it. He said, “I find that hard to believe. But, if it’s true, good on you.”
They still charged myself and my missus with the same offence. She got charged for acknowledging the fact of what I was doing. So, not only am I looking at 25 years in gaol with no parole – and 15 years, 15 years, 15 years – but my missus is also looking at the same charges.
This has also impacted your work situation. Can you explain what’s happened to you there?
Since the charges, I got a letter on the 6 November from the Blue Card Services revoking my card. And that has severely impeded me from going to work, as I lost my contract because I lost my Blue Card.
So, they’ve pretty much taken my livelihood away from myself and my family.
You’re contemplating pleading guilty, but you don’t believe you’re guilty of these charges.
I don’t believe I’m guilty. I may have broken the law, because the law sucks. It’s a Catch-22 because we love our children and want to help them.
It’s a very big Catch-22. It’s either break the law, go to court for it and possibly face gaol, or put them on prescription pills that do not work.
I have a lot of history when it comes to autism, and seeing pharmaceutical pills not do what they’re supposed to do. And chopping and changing doses and different pills.
A family friend of mine, her son just turned 18. He still can’t talk. He’s still frustrated. He still lashes out. He’s been on pharmaceuticals for 15 years. He still can’t get access to legal cannabis.
You need to raise over $14,000 to pay your private lawyers. How is your GoFundMe campaign going?
We’ve made a fair bit on the GoFundMe page. Last time I checked it was over $10,000. But, not up to $11,000.
We auctioned off a few raffles, with precious stones, rings and stuff like that. The people that won have directly deposited into my bank, instead of putting it into GoFundMe.
I’ve paid the solicitor. And I’m just waiting for the remaining money to be cleared into our bank account, so I can transfer it to the barrister.
We’ve done pretty well. We raised close to $14,000 in 21 days via the community.
And lastly, the government has been trying to establish a medicinal cannabis market in this country for the last couple of years, yet there’s little product available and most patients can’t access it.
Jamie, what do you think about the medicinal cannabis situation in this country at present?
All they’re trying to do is make it fall into the hands of the pharmaceutical industry, so they make more money off it, because they’re going to lose money with pharmaceuticals.
I believe that everyone should be able to grow their own medicine, and not have to go through the TGA Special Access Scheme, when they know what works for them or their kids.
Like I said, it’s very hard for us to get legal cannabis oil – THCa and CBD – because they don’t have that product available for us. Even if we could get through there, they don’t have it. It’s not a registered product in any of the companies yet. They can’t legally prescribe it.
They want us to try every registered pharmaceutical pill on the market. And if they don’t work, they’re trying to give people a lobotomy before they give them cannabis oil.
Image: Supplied by Jamie Blake
Paul Gregoire is a Sydney-based journalist and writer. He has a focus on human rights issues, encroachments on civil liberties, drug law reform, gender diversity and First Nations rights. Prior to Sydney Criminal Lawyers®, he wrote for VICE and was the news editor at Sydney’s City Hub.