He had a warehouse full of cannabis worth $1.4 million. But Bradley Hindmarsh says he only grew the plant to give to people ravaged by debilitating illnesses such as cancer, arthritis, HIV, insomnia and acute back pain.
All he asked, in return for enough cannabis to last a few weeks, was donations of about $100 to continue funding his operation.
Hindmarsh, 46, faces jail after admitting growing 396 cannabis plants in a warehouse at Riverstone, in Sydney’s northwest.
The NSW Crime Commission, which can seize assets made from criminal activity, is also examining Hindmarsh’s financial affairs in the NSW Supreme Court
But the father of three from Galston said he only supplied his illegal crop to the sick as an alternative to the expense and difficulty of getting treatment by legal means and that he didn’t make a profit.
Hindmarsh, an experienced horticulturist who runs a plant nutrient formula company, said he has long been an advocate for legalising medicinal cannabis to treat crippling illnesses and persistent pain.
“My motivation is that people who need medicinal marijuana should have access to proper, clean marijuana, which I have the ability to grow,” he said.
“I can grow it because I’ve got all of the hardware from my business.
“It might come across as rash but I felt like it was the right thing to do.”
He is now facing jail after he pleaded guilty in Penrith District Court to cultivating a commercial quantity of the plant over a two-month period before police raided his warehouse.
He said he grew so many plants because of his low success rate in getting the best “cannabinoid profile” — the plants’ chemical makeup — for it to be used to reduce pain.
The case comes as medicinal cannabis cultivation is on the brink of being made legal.
However, any move to legalise growing of the drug is guaranteed to be heavily regulated and not allow makeshift operations.
Hindmarsh said: “If it is made legal it should be regulated, and heavily regulated too, so it is as safe as possible.
“It wouldn’t have the problematic effects that a lot of people get from poorly produced marijuana.”
When Hindmarsh appears for sentencing on February 26 he will attempt to tender references from at least 18 people he either supplied cannabis to or others who support him.
The court will decide whether the references be accepted as evidence or if the referees will be cross-examined.
One reference was written by a man from Elizabeth Bay, in Sydney’s east, who said he has been an HIV sufferer since 1986.
“Brad Hindmarsh has given me marijuana on a medical basis to help me and my issues. I am grateful for his assistance and hope the court can take this into account,” he wrote.
Another man from South Australia described how he was suffering prostate cancer and used cannabis oil supplied by Hindmarsh after being referred by a friend who was using it to “combat the ravages of chemo”. “(The friend) indicated that the cannabis oil he was receiving from Brad was helping him immensely,” he wrote.
“And that the cannabis oil was far more moderately priced than what I was paying (to buy it from another source off the internet).”
A Redfern woman said in her reference that Hindmarsh supplied cannabis “to my partner while she was dying from breast cancer”.
She wrote: “Having access to medicinal cannabis in the last stages of her illness gave my partner a quality of life she would not have had otherwise. Medicinal cannabis helped my partner deal with the pain. She was lucid and able to be with us more fully in those last weeks and days.”
Hindmarsh’s lawyer Brett Galloway said he will ask for the references to be taken into account when he is sentenced.
“Society’s attitudes have changed significantly towards medicinal marijuana and you would tend to think his reasons for doing what he did might be looked upon favourably when the court imposes a sentence,” Mr Galloway said.
Those attitudes have been reflected by recent moves by the federal and NSW governments that are paving the way to legalise cannabis for medical use.
The NSW government has launched clinical trials to examine the impact of cannabis and related products on debilitating illnesses.
The federal government last year introduced legislation, which, if passed, will allow licences to be granted to grow medicinal cannabis.
The developments came after The Sunday Telegraph revealed the suffering of cancer patient Dan Haslam, who led the NSW campaign to legalise medicinal cannabis and convinced Premier Mike Baird to act.
According to the statement of facts, Hindmarsh pleaded guilty after police raided his warehouse on March 26, 2015, and found the plants surrounded by false walls.
Police also found large quantities of liquid plant fertiliser and hydroponic growth pads.
The investigators called Hindmarsh, who went to the warehouse and told police he had been cultivating the plants. He was arrested and “made full and frank admissions” that he had been growing the plants for two months.
He told police he was cultivating the cannabis for “medical purposes” and that he gave it to people with medical conditions in exchange for “donations” of about $100 to fund the operation.
“There were approximately six to seven people he would sell the cannabis to, however, he would not disclose who they were. He stated that he did this as he believed he has done no wrong,” the fact sheet said.