Finally, after three years, Jenny Hallam’s ordeal with the authorities is over. And thankfully, rather than facing any prison time, last Thursday, SA District Court Judge Rauf Soulio recorded no conviction against her name and imposed a two year good behaviour bond.
This is significant, as Ms Hallam had pled guilty in February to one count of supplying cannabis oil and a second charge of manufacturing it. The medicinal cannabis healer had been providing chronically ill patients with the oil free of charge, as well as using it to heal herself.
South Australian police raided Ms Hallam’s north Adelaide home back in January 2017. And she was officially charged three months later. The decision to target and prosecute the now 47-year-old Hallam was widely condemned as a callous move on the part of the state.
Legal, but inaccessible
The reason why so many oil producers are illegally operating out in the community is there are an estimated 100,000 patients around the country, treating their conditions with cannabis medicine, as it’s something of a wonder drug.
In recognition of this, the federal government passed a bill in 2016 that established a cannabis licensing scheme, which is now acknowledged as being a complete farce. Few patients can access exorbitantly priced imported products that aren’t even as effective as the illegal whole plant medicine.
A sympathetic judiciary
Ms Hallam’s sentencing outcome is in line with a growing trend around the country that involves the judiciary handing down non-carceral penalties in acknowledgement that these oil producers are actually helping seriously ill people that can’t find relief elsewhere.
Indeed, renowned medicinal cannabis practitioner Dr Andrew Katelaris was found not guilty of large commercial supply and manufacture of cannabis oil in November last year, as he argued a defence of medical necessity, meaning his patients’ needs were so dire that he was forced to break the law.
Sydney Criminal Lawyers spoke to Jenny Hallam about being let her off with such a light sentence, what she thinks about the legal cannabis medicine scheme that’s operating in this country, and how it’s time for authorities to leave oil producers to their healing.
Jenny, you’d pleaded guilty to some very serious drug charges, and you got off with a good behaviour bond and no conviction recorded against your name. How did you feel?
Extremely relieved. It had been a long time that it had dragged out. So, I was relieved it was over.
But, I was also relieved that I got no conviction, because it means that it isn’t going to affect me for the rest of my life.
I’m glad it’s over.
What were the reasons the judge gave for his decision to impose such a light penalty?
He basically said that it was obvious that I hadn’t charged for it. There was evidence to the contrary – that I’d actually lost a lot of money doing it.
They named $20,000, which was less than what it was. They had evidence that I had lost at least $20,000 doing it.
Also, they said I hadn’t caused any harm. To the contrary, I’d actually done a lot of good. And some results were almost miraculous.
But, having said that, you’ve spent the last three years in legal limbo, with the prospect of serving real time hanging over your head.
And this was all to do with you providing sick people with a substance that the federal government has attempted to make legally available. How do you feel about that?
I was really frustrated. I don’t think they should be prosecuting people for these sorts of offences anymore.
They know that as the laws are changing, there’s this big lag. It’s just ridiculous to be wasting court time and taxpayers’ money, as the judges keep giving us these light sentences. It’s a complete waste of the prosecution’s time and money.
In fact, judges seem to be really annoyed. Judge Soulio was really tough on my prosecutor all the way through. He was constantly giving him crap for all sorts of things. You could see that the judge was annoyed that it was still going through.
During the sentencing hearing a month ago, the judge actually made a comment himself that cannabis has been used medicinally for hundreds of years.
Then there was a short break, and he came back afterwards and apologised. He said, “No. I was wrong. It’s actually been used for thousands of years, not hundreds.”
It was really nice to know that he was reading our submissions and taking note of them. And he was actually looking at the history of cannabis as well – not just the law.
The outcome of your case seems to be part of a similar trend around the country, where people who are charged with medicinal cannabis crimes aren’t being sentenced to prison.
That’s right. This is why the prosecutors need to start looking at this and realising that they might be able to bring these charges, but they’re not getting anything out of them in the end.
All they’re doing is destroying people’s lives, who weren’t doing anything bad. They’re just trying to save themselves. And most people aren’t selling it, most people are just trying to heal.
So, to be prosecuting people like that is disgusting. It’s a human rights issue that we need to start addressing. They’re basically harassing people for just trying to keep themselves alive. And there’s something morally wrong with that.
We need to start looking at why prosecutors are doing it. Why are they constantly doing these things when they know it’s medical? And also, the judges are just going to be letting us off anyway.
I don’t understand why they want to destroy people’s lives by doing this to them.
It’s now been three years since the federal government’s medicinal cannabis licensing scheme came into play. How would you describe the outcomes that it’s brought for patients?
Chaos. It’s just chaos. Nobody knows what’s going on.
Most people can’t access a product, or if they can, it’s mainly NSW and Queensland that are really getting all the access. But, even so, most people can’t afford it, because it’s just so expensive.
The government has completely stuffed it up. But, they did that deliberately. We know that. We know they did it deliberately to slow it down. They’ve been playing to Big Pharma, Big Tobacco and Big Alcohol for years.
And until we can stop the political donations, they’re getting from these people, there’s nothing much we are going to be able to do about it.
We know for a fact, that both sides of government are receiving political donations from these corporations to basically do what they want them to do. And so far, they have been.
Just look at the polls, 97 percent of the population supports medicinal cannabis, but yet, our politicians don’t act on it. They just keep saying that they’re doing it, but we know they’re not.
I’ve met with Greg Hunt personally. And he lied to my face. He told me he would do everything to get access as soon as possible for people. Then within about a month, he was working behind the scenes to stop it.
When the first vote came up for category A access, he actually sent emails around to all the senators to vote against it. And he gave reasons why they should.
I had those letters leaked to me. So, I leaked them to the press, because I am just sick and tired of this.
They say to us, “If you want to make change, go and speak to the politicians.” But, if we go and speak to the politicians, they just ignore us and continue to do what they want to do anyway.
So, what do we do then? They’re trying to take away our right to protest. But, that’s all we’ve got left.
If they’re not going to listen to us when we go and speak to them, what can we do except for protest in the streets, and make it difficult for them.
They’re just making it so it’s impossible for us now.
And lastly, now this is all finally behind you, what’s next on the agenda for Jenny Hallam?
I’m going to have a rest and heal a bit. It’s really taken its toll on me physically and mentally. And then I am going to start again.
I have to make some decisions. I have to get out of the state. I’ve been told they want me to leave. I need to leave the state as soon as possible.
They can’t force me to leave, but they can make it extremely difficult for me. They can keep coming after me and raiding me.
I don’t have my own house at the moment. I am staying with friends. And anyone I stay with can be raided. So, people won’t want me to stay with them.
They’ll just make it so difficult that I won’t be able to stay in Adelaide. Also, I don’t want that to be constantly hanging over my head or having to constantly worry about the police coming back. So, I have to leave the state.
Really, I don’t know what the future holds just yet. But, I’m going to keep working to get it legalised.
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.