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Backyard cannabis plot: Search finds crop worth $131k, home detention for accused

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Police searching the backyard of a man's rented Wairoa home found 19 healthy cannabis plants, likely to have yielded a crop with a street value of more than $131,000 Gisborne District Court was told.

Jody Mathew Smith, 42, subsequently pleaded guilty to cultivating cannabis and was sentenced by Judge Warren Cathcart to two and a half months home detention.

Smith also admitted a breach of bail for which he was convicted and discharged.

Police searched the property, which Smith rents with his partner and children, at about 8am on March 13 last year.

A large section of the backyard was partitioned off with corrugated iron, with 11 cannabis plants covered by camouflage netting growing behind it. Another eight plants were growing alongside a nearby fence.

The plants were between 1.4 and 1.7 metres tall, and about a fortnight off being harvested.

When questioned, Smith said he knew the cannabis was there but the property was not his. He gave the name of the owner. She told police Smith had been living there for a year.

Police estimated the street value of the crop's potential yield at $131,200.

Crown prosecutor James Bridgman said that was significant as it suggested some commercial intention, albeit there were no other obvious commercial indicators.

The court could fix a sentence starting point of two to two-and-a-half years imprisonment.

Counsel Manaaki Terekia said the focus should be more on the number of plants and the level of sophistication involved in the operation, which was low level.

He contended the sentence starting point should be between 12 and 15 months.

There was nothing to aggravate the offending, Mr Terekia said. Smith had no previous relevant convictions.

Judge Cathcart accepted the Crown's submissions as to a commercial aspect to the offending but said in the absence of other indicators, the court needed to take care not to give too much weight to that factor.

He set a sentence starting point of 18 months imprisonment.

Discounts for mitigating factors including for Smith's guilty pleas (17 percent of a possible 25 percent) and compliance on bail for more than a year, reduced the nominal end sentence to 12 months imprisonment.

Smith's personal circumstances, employment and lack of previous criminal history justified converting the sentence to home detention, the judge said.

That meant Smith's time in custody would also be taken into account. The 103 days Smith spent behind bars was the equivalent of a seven-month sentence, so the judge reduced the nominal end sentence to five months before it was converted to home detention.