Police gave impression there would be no arrest’

THREE people, including a man from Oldhurst, who supplied cannabis-laced chocolate to multiple sclerosis sufferers for pain relief believed the service was legal, a court heard. Mark Gibson, 42, told Carlisle Crown Court that Cumbria Police had given him

THREE people, including a man from Oldhurst, who supplied cannabis-laced chocolate to multiple sclerosis sufferers for pain relief believed the service was legal, a court heard.

Mark Gibson, 42, told Carlisle Crown Court that Cumbria Police had given him the impression he would be safe from arrest provided he "put his head down".

Gibson and his wife Lezley, 42, who suffers from MS, admit running a cottage industry making and posting out over 20,000 Canna-Biz bars each containing around 3.5gms of the drug. They were sent to victims of the disease around the world over the past six years.

But the couple, from Alston, Cumbria, deny two charges each of conspiring to supply cannabis.

Marcus Davies, 36, from Warboys Road, Oldhurst, who admits running a website and post office box for the not-for-profit organisation Therapeutic Help from Cannabis

for Multiple Sclerosis, thc4ms.org, denies the same charges.

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Mark Gibson, said: "I had lawful reason for doing what I did. I believed I had a defence in law of medical necessity.''

He told the court his wife and Davies had also understood that to be true throughout 2004 and the first month of 2005, the period for which the trio's charges apply.

The website advertising the free Canna-Biz bars and the information sheets sent out with the chocolate were all carefully written to ensure they would comply with such a defence, the jury heard.

Gibson insisted cannabis use alleviated the symptoms of MS, as his wife's experience and medical research showed, and there was currently no suitable licensed medicine available as an alternative.

The court was also told the Gibsons made no secret of their activities in the early years, with articles and features on their cannabis chocolates appearing in the local and national media.

Detective Chief Inspector Bill Whitehead, who was North Cumbria's area crime manager in 2002, acknowledged his officers had known "in general terms" what the couple were up to and had met Mark Gibson twice to discuss the cannabis chocolates.

Mr Gibson said his last meeting with Mr Whitehead at the end of 2002 left him believing the police would not try to stop him supplying the bars, provided he made his activities less public.

He said: "I was given the impression that I should put my head down but continue as I was."

He set up a post office box through Marcus Davies in response. Mr Davies would forward on bundles of requests for chocolate and donations in larger envelopes to cut down on the amount of mail the Gibsons received.

The 2002 meeting with Mr Whitehead was the last the Gibsons heard from the police until they were raided this year, the court heard.

Fighting back tears as she gave evidence, Lezley Gibson told the jury she could not comprehend why she was being prosecuted.

Back in September 2000 she had walked free from court after admitting possessing cannabis because she pleaded medical necessity - and she believed that defence still applied.

"I'm not doing anything wrong,'' she said. "I wasn't guilty in 2000 and I don't see how it can be wrong to help anyone to be well.''

The court heard that Mrs Gibson had been a successful hairdresser before she was struck with MS in mid 80s, beating now celebrity stylists Andrew Collinge and Nicky Clarke in competitions.

When the "persistent pins and needles, slurred speech, blurred vision and general clumsiness'' cut short her career, she was put on steroids by doctors.

She said: "The only thing they did for me was send me from seven-and-a-half stone to 14 stone - and I grew a beard.''

But after she met her husband in 1986 and started using cannabis she noticed her MS "wasn't as bad".

Mrs Gibson gave evidence to the House of Lords Select Committee on Science and Technology to that effect in 1998, the jury was told.

They also heard that after her acquittal in 2000, Mrs Gibson was besieged by people asking for cannabis chocolate and advice on taking it for MS.

Mrs Gibson was interviewed on television by Esther Rantzen and regularly appeared on BBC Radio 4's You and Yours and BBC Radio 5 Live promoting the medicinal use of cannabis.

Both the Gibsons insisted the cannabis was sent to MS sufferers only after a medical note had been provided confirming their condition and the chocolate was free as donations were at users' discretion.

Two MS sufferers who gave evidence supported those claims.

The cannabis used in the chocolate was donated, Mark Gibson said, but at street price 3.5gms would cost up to £35 nowadays, and at least £18 back in 2000.

Add in the cost of pots, grinders, postage, packaging, petrol and organic, high-cocoa content chocolate - preferably Green & Blacks - and the commercial price of a bar would be up to £40, he added. The donation suggested on the website per bar was £5.

The case continues.

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