A leading figure in Kaikohe's arts and business communities has been jailed for two years after being found guilty of possession of cannabis for supply.
Kelly van Gaalen was sentenced in the Kaikohe District Court on Thursday following a jury trial last month. Friends and family in the public gallery, including her three children, wept and called out as the distraught 38-year-old was led away.
Van Gaalen was a member of the Kaikohe-Hokianga Community Board as well as the chair of the Kaikohe Community Arts Council and promotions manager for the Kaikohe Business Association. She has resigned from her positions. A community board by-election will be held in October.
Judge John McDonald told the court that van Gaalen's husband had been the victim of a violent home invasion by three armed men on July 14 last year. Mr van Gaalen, who was home alone, managed to escape and raise the alarm.
However, when police arrived they discovered a bucket of dried cannabis and more in a snaplock bag.
In total it weighed 684g.
Van Gaalen had told the court it was for personal use and to give away to about 20 close friends. She had two plants, one of which had grown exceptionally well. She said she smoked cannabis daily and had started when she was 14.
Judge McDonald said there was no evidence of commercial dealing, such as text messages on her phone, but Parliament had set the upper limit for personal use at 28g. Van Gaalen had 24 times that and knew it was against the law.
"It is not for this court to comment whether that is a just law or not," he said.
Defence lawyer Doug Blaikie said he had been flooded with unsolicited references testifying to her good character and work in the community. In total 32 references had been provided by a range of people, including a former mayor, a principal and a pastor.
Many vibrant citizens had deserted Kaikohe but she had chosen to stay. Town beautification projects had ground to a halt after she had resigned from her roles, Mr Blaikie said.
Kaikohe Business Association chair Steve Sangster also addressed the court, speaking of her achievements and the pride she had instilled in the town.
Judge McDonald gave her credit for her previous good record and "extremely worthwhile contribution", but said he had to be consistent with sentences imposed for other, similar offences.
"To say this sentencing has troubled me is an understatement," he said.
Crown prosecutor Catherine Gisler had called for three years, saying deterrence was important. Mr Blaikie had asked for a term of community detention.
Van Gaalen's husband originally faced the same charge. It was dropped when she said the cannabis was all hers. Her family is planning to lodge an appeal.
- Northern Advocate
Please sign the petition to help free Kelly Van Gaalen: www.change.org/p/new-zealand-parliament-free-kelly-van-gaalen