The owner of a city shop which dispenses products containing derivatives of the cannabis plant, has been charged with drug dealing offences – following the seizure of an estimated €120,000 worth of cannabis at his business premises and at his home last year.
James O’Brien (41) of Portacarron, Oughterard, runs the Little Collins CBD dispensary with his wife at 25 Upper Abbeygate Street, Galway.
Mr O’Brien appeared before Galway District Court charged with having cannabis in his possession at the shop and again at his home in Portacarron on May 10, 2019.
He was also charged with having cannabis for sale or supply to another at both locations on the same date.
Sergeant Aoife Curley, prosecuting, said the value of the drugs seized was €80,000 at the first location and €40,000 at the second. The DPP had directed the charges be dealt with at District Court level, she said.
Judge Fahy was amazed the DPP should direct the charges involving such a large value be kept in the District Court.
Sgt. Curley explained that although the value of the drugs seized was extremely high, it involved a different type of cannabis which had a very low threshold for potency.
“Some would argue this type of cannabis is legal,” she said.
Judge Fahy said she now understood the DPP’s decision. “The cannabidiol, which is legal, does not have the ingredient that gives the ‘high’ that ‘normal’ cannabis gives, but if it does give that ‘high’ it’s illegal,” she said.
Defence solicitor, Sean Acton, said the legal situation pertaining to the type of cannabis seized from his client was ‘a minefield’.
“This is a matter that will end up elsewhere. Customs know that. It’s about THC (the psycho-active chemical in cannabis). Anything less than 0.3% which is the European standard is legal, but Ireland has not adopted that law yet.
“There is a lacuna in the (Irish) law. This was 0.2%,” he said.
Judge Fahy asked if this had been a shop setting; Sgt. Curley clarified it was a shop and also a home setting. She said the charges read ‘cannabis’ – because it was cannabis.
Mr Acton said the substance had been tested abroad and was below the European law threshold (of 0.3%), but, he said, Irish law does not differentiate.
There is confusion over the legality and sale of Cannabidiol in Ireland.
Unlike other derivatives of the cannabis plant, CBD is not psychoactive and is legal in most European countries. However, under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1977, all derivatives of cannabis and hemp containing THC are illegal in Ireland – even if they contain only trace amounts.
Mr Acton said the substance was imported because it could be imported from one EU State into another EU State and it was legal.
He said a decision was due this month in the European Court about this matter.
Judge Fahy said this was not “a classic Section 15 (drug dealing) charge” and that was why the DPP had directed it be dealt with in the District Court.
“It’s the first here in Galway but I have heard about it with regards to the ingredient,” Judge Fahy added.
Mr Acton said he would in time be bringing a legal challenge against the State and he applied to the court to have the matter adjourned.
Judge Fahy accepted jurisdiction to deal with the case in her court and she remanded Mr O’Brien on continuing bail to appear back before the court again on March 1, to give Mr Acton time to look into the legality of the issue and clarify European law.
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‘Crass stupidity’ to allow Leisureland close
The looming threat of closure for Leisureland after Christmas amounts to “crass stupidity” and requires an urgent commitment for funding from Government, according to a local TD.
Deputy Catherine Connolly told the Galway City Tribune she had raised the issue in the Dáil with the Minister of State for Local Government and he had expressed an openness to meeting with a delegation from City Hall in relation to the City Council-owned facility’s dire financial situation.
“It’s simply not acceptable that a public swimming pool would close when we have the Minister for Finance announcing a budget of €18 billion this week – that’s Monopoly money.
“We have €18 billion to dispense and the challenge is to do that in a way that ensures a basic level of services below which we cannot go, and that requires funding the local authority. The local authority is fundamental in any civilised society, as are the services it provides,” said the Independent Deputy.
Raising the issue in Leinster House, Deputy Connolly said that Leisureland was an excellent public facility that had been open since 1973 and had broke even for the last number of years, but had run into major funding shortfalls as a result of Covid-19 restrictions.
“It is a fantastic swimming pool. I must declare a conflict of interest as I use it every weekend, It helps to keep me semi-sane and semi-fit.
“No public swimming pool makes money and few of them break even. This pool needed money due to Covid-19 and the difficulties experienced by every public swimming pool in the country. The management in the City Council said it was not in a position to give it money and that the swimming pool would have to close,” said Deputy Connolly, adding that the decision had been made and staff were informed.
Due to public pressure and resistance from local councillors, the decision was reversed and €207,000 in funding had been provided by the Council Executive.
“However, it pointed out that the money was coming out of next year’s budget, so it could not continue, and it would not be in a position to fund it.
“I do not expect miracles, but I expect commitment from the Minister and the Government that, regardless of what happens, we are not going to close public swimming pools or public libraries. They are essential services,” said Deputy Connolly.
She said €2.5 million in funding had been made available for “swimming pools with public access” in the private sector as part of the Government’s July Stimulus package, but nothing for publicly-owned facilities.
“It is very ironic if we are going to keep private swimming pools open once they have some limited access to the public, while we close down the public swimming pools,” she added.
Responding, Minister Peter Burke said his Department was keeping spending and cash flow at local authorities under constant review and would continue to work with Galway City Council to address issues.
“My Department is engaging with representatives of the local government sector and the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform on the financial challenges facing local authorities as a direct consequence of the pandemic, in terms of additional costs incurred as part of the local government response and decline in local authority income streams.
“I will do my very best with regard to the Deputy’s ask. I would be willing to meet a delegation from the City Council in connection with this issue. However, there are going to be significant asks emanating from this crisis. We are doing our very best to make what we have go as far as it can. It presents a major challenge,” said Minister Burke.
HSE not paying rent to councils for use of Galway Airport
Galway Airport is being provided to the Health Service Executive (HSE) free of charge, the County Council has confirmed.
The Carnmore facility, jointly owned by Galway’s two local authorities, is being used as a drive through Covid-19 testing centre for the city and county.
It was confirmed to County Councillor Gabe Cronnelly (Ind) that neither the City nor County Council are benefiting financially from the HSE for the use of the facility. And he wasn’t happy.
He said Galway Airport was being given over to the HSE free-of-charge, at a time when the County Council budget was in deficit to the tune of €1.4 million at the latest count.
“The HSE isn’t paying anything to use the airport for testing. If it was the other way round, and the County Council was looking for something off the HSE, do you think that they would give it to the Council for nothing?” asked Cllr Cronnelly.
“They pay zero to us; yet we have a big deficit in the budget and Galway is the second-worst funded county council in Ireland. Why are we being so generous with our assets? Our budget is short again this year. We seem to have become a bit of a charity.”
Cllr Cronnelly said that not only was it not making money out of the airport, the County Council was actually spending money on holding meetings elsewhere, because County Hall cannot facilitate a socially distanced meeting.
He suggested that Galway Airport would be capable of facilitating a meeting of 39 councillors plus officials and media – and it would cost the local authority very little because it owns the site.
“It seems to me that there is an awful lot of waste of money going on,” he added.
‘One-off’ Galway City Council grass cuttings collection
It was the last hurrah for grass collection in the urban area with Galway City Council last week agreeing to pick up hundreds of bags of cuttings ‘left out’ over recent months.
With the grass-cutting season now drawing to a close, the City Council has warned however that the collection service will not be happening again – instead the ‘green stuff’ will have to be mulched back into the ground or ‘brown binned’.
The issue was raised at last week’s City Council meeting by Cllr Terry O’Flaherty who submitted a motion seeking the collection of the grass and cuttings that had been ‘bagged’ by local residents and community groups.
Cllr O’Flaherty said that she was ‘full of admiration’ for people in the community who gave so freely of their time and energy to keep communal green areas cut and tidied up.
At the meeting, she had called upon the City Council to continue the grass collection service ‘indefinitely’ to support the work of community groups who maintained their own green areas.
“The Council have now made it clear that they will no longer remove the likes of grass cuttings and branches collected during this work.
“They have told me that this message has been communicated to all those who contacted the Council by phone to avail of the service they had previously offered.
“The Council had indicated that the change as regards grass collection was also advertised in local newspapers and on social media,” said Cllr O’Flaherty.
She said that the Council decision to remove the bags of grass and cuttings that had accumulated in different parts of the city was very welcome but added that the local authority had made it clear this was a ‘one-off’ arrangement.
“So I would appeal to people who have been leaving out this green waste for collection by the local authority to stop doing so from now on, as it just won’t be collected.
“They should put green waste like grass cuttings in their brown bins. There’s a benefit to the environment in doing this, as it will reduce the overuse of plastic bags,” added Cllr O’Flaherty.
She pointed out that the City Council has undertaken to work proactively with residents and Community Employment (CE) Schemes to keep their public areas looking well, including an offer for the provision of composting facilities.
The Council have also asked people not to prune back landscaping on public lands as they say this often causes damage and disease to the plants – they [Council] have, according to Cllr O’Flaherty, offered to provide a mulching service for a day in Spring and one in Autumn.