Thirty-six-year-old Photis Andreou, who was jailed in June after a court ruled that the industrial hemp he had imported as a tea was an illegal substance, was released last week after his sentence was overturned by appeals court, his lawyer said on Wednesday.
Andreou was sentenced to five months in prison on June 6 after he was charged with the import, possession, manufacture and intent to supply others with a controlled drug class B. Industrial hemp is of the same species as cannabis and contains the psychoactive component tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), but they are distinct strains with hemp having far lower concentrations of THC.
The Larnaca court had rejected his claim that he used the drug, which he had imported from the Czech Republic, to alleviate the symptoms of his ailment, Crohn’s disease.
Andreou had told the court he had imported what he termed as cannabis tea to treat his affliction. Describing the cannabis as industrial, his defence asked the court to take into account the relevant law (Production and Marketing of Industrial Hemp Act 2016) which legalised its production.
The court refused to accept that the 66 grammes of cannabis was for therapeutic or industrial purposes and found Andreou guilty of importing the drug with intent to supply as well as producing a solid green substance from herbal cannabis.
The appeals court last week though overturned the initial court ruling as it had found two mistakes concerning the decision that led to the sentencing.
The first mistake concerns the fact that the court had deemed Andreou as unreliable as he did not inform police during his arrest that he was using the substance in question for therapeutic reasons.
“This position is legally wrong,” the appellate court’s ruling said, as the defendant cannot be deemed as unreliable just because he did not tell his side of the story to the police as soon as he was arrested.
“It is established that a suspect or a defendant has the right to remain silent and the fact that he did not project his version and his defence immediately upon arrest cannot be held against him,” it said.
The second mistake the appeals court found was that the sentencing court did not take into consideration what Andreou thought as to the content of THC in the product he had imported. THC is the active psychotropic substance that gives users their high.
According to one of his lawyers, Katerina Elia, Andreou had imported the product believing that it was industrial cannabis as all the information he had in his possession said that it contained less than 0.2per cent of THC. This was according to the labelling of the product, and a leaflet in the packaging based on measurements made by a lab in the Czech Republic where the product is manufactured.
“But when it was tested at the state lab here in Cyprus it emerged that the sample had between 0.2 and 0.9 per cent THC content so it was deemed that it was not industrial cannabis,” Elia told the Cyprus Mail.
“We observe that the important point was what the defendant-appellant knew at the relevant time as to the THC content of the product in his possession and not what the actual THC content was in the product in question,” the appeals court said.
In addition, the appeals court ruled that the initial court should have not had dismissed the defendant’s claim that the product in his possession had less than 0.2 per cent THC due to the fact that the container of the product was not presented in court as evidence.
“… It appears that it was in the possession of the police and the fact that it was not presented in court as evidence should have not have been counted as a negative point against the appellant,” it said.
Andreou was released last week after all charges against him were dropped, and he is eligible for compensation for the time he spent in prison, Elia said.