‘Medicine Man’ Tony Bower and his wife Julie were all smiles outside Port Macquarie Courthouse yesterday after a judge overturned his 12-month jail sentence. Photo supplied.
North coast man Tony Bower, hailed a hero around Australia for supplying free medicinal cannabis tincture to sufferers of terminal and other illnesses, will continue to seek government approval of his medication after an appeal judge yesterday ordered his release from jail where he was serving a 12-month sentence.
Mr Bower had been held in custody in a Kempsey correctional centre for six weeks after a magistrate in April jailed him for growing the cannabis for his tincture, despite his lodging an immediate appeal against the sentence, which carried a nine-month non-parole period.
Supporters of Mr Bower, 56, who were outraged at the jail term, yesterday welcomed the ‘commonsense’ decision by a Port Macquarie District Court judge to suspend the 12-month jail sentence and place him on a 12-month good-behaviour bond.
Ironically, while Mr Bower was held in custody, a NSW Upper House inquiry last month recommended the government legalise the medicinal use of cannabis.
Mr Bower was charged after a police raid on his Mullaway property last year, which netted around 200 hemp plants that he had earmarked for production of the medical tincture to distribute free to cancer sufferers and others with medical certificates.
Mr Bower’s barrister, Jason Todman, told Echonetdaily that the judge, Justice R Ellis, had based his decision on several factors, including the fact Mr Bower was helping people with terminal illnesses and that there was a lack of evidence of any commercial gain for him.
Mr Todman said other grounds included that Mr Bower was in the process of obtaining a licence to dispense the tincture lawfully and that he was ‘almost there’ in becoming licensed to do so.
‘It was also noted it would have been difficult for Mr Bower to avoid the pleas of terminally-ill people who came to him for help,’ he said.
Mr Todman, a police prosecutor in Queensland for 23 years before becoming a barrister, said the judge also took into account character references including one by Valerie Taylor, the wife of the late prominent world shark expert Ron Taylor who died in 2012 from cancer.
‘Mrs Taylor said she was grateful that her late husband used the tincture supplied by Mr Bower to ease his pain before he lost his battle to cancer,’ he said.
Yesterday, Mr Bower thanked ‘all those who have given or shown support for my release’ and that it was ‘good to be home with family and friends’.
He said he had been trying for years to have his tincture registered as a medical product by state and federal authorities with no success to date and would meet next month with NSW deputy premier Andrew Stoner to try and have the process moved on, given the recent Upper House recommendation.
He said it seemed that authorities were not interested ‘unless you’re a big pharmaceutical company producing pharmaceutical drugs’, and governments needed to investigate more thoroughly the benefits of medical cannabis.
He said clinical trials in Victoria for the tincture also had to be worked through and applications processed by the NSW health department for a licence to cultivate, possess and supply cannabis plants for the purposes of scientific research, analysis and study.
Mr Bower said this would allow his company, Mullaways Medical Cannabis Pty Ltd, to legally grow a certain number of cannabis plants to be made into the natural, low-dose, non-psychotropic cannabinoid tincture to be used in the clinical trials ‘so definitive research on cannabis and cannabinoids and their medical benefits may finally be done in Australia’.
‘The NSW Upper House inquiry recently found it’s not acceptable to criminalise people for simply trying to achieve pain relief and quality of life, through the legal conventional ways or otherwise,’ he said.
‘The recognition of cannabis as a medical right has now raised the need for trials and research so cannabis-based medications can be developed and produced safely, cheaply and legally to be made readily available from licensed pharmacists and hospitals.
President of the HEMP (Help End Marijuana Prohibition) Embassy in Nimbin, Michael Balderstone, said Mr Bower ‘may be out of jail but now he has this horrid shadow of a suspended sentence over him for 12 months’.
‘One wrong move and he’s behind bars for a year. Tony really is a hero in this war on cannabis and make no mistake about it, it’s a war, with a lot of lives and money at stake,’ Mr Balderstone said.
‘If only more Australians stood so tall in the face of such serious injustice, change could happen faster.
‘It’s critical that the medical cannabis users of NSW put their paranoia aside and talk to their local members of parliament over the next months and inform them of the facts.
‘They will be voting on the issue before the end of the year and it’s up to us to keep it at the top of their often very big in-tray.
‘It’s fair to say they are probably out of touch with the illegal drug world and how it affects people’s lives accessing their medicine of choice. Phone up and make an appointment, or write your story to them.
The HEMP Party will be targeting Julia Gillard and Tony Abbott from now on. ‘They need to address the issue of medical cannabis and need to get informed. For example, all this drama from synthetic cannabis is totally a consequence of prohibition.
‘People want cannabis for medical reasons way more than the politicians realise.’
The Kempsey magistrate who last month sentenced Mr Bower, Wayne Evans, is the first former NSW policeman to have risen to the position. He has been the local magistrate since 1997.