Man jailed for anti-abortion pot crop
A FATHER of nine children who claimed he planted one of Australia's largest marijuana crops to fund a nation-wide media campaign against abortion has been jailed for 13 years.
Michael Bennett Gardner Snr was the central figure in a large-scale "sophisticated and elaborate commercial venture" at Inglewood, in the southern Darling Downs, from mid-2004 until December, 2008.
The 58-year-old organised family to buy the 2225-hectare property because it had prime grazing land at the front which would "mask the illegal actions" in rocky gullies in the mountainous region behind.
Brisbane Supreme Court heard he spent a lot of money on infrastructure such as sheds, tractors, sprinklers and 8km of poly piping to set up the operation.
Crown prosecutor Michael Lehane said Gardner recruited his young stepchildren, aged 11-14, to plant seedlings and tend to thousands of plants when they should have been at school.
He said Gardner had an arsenal of weapons including 10,000 rounds of live ammunition to protect his crops.
Mr Lehane said Gardner was producing marijuana on an "heroic scale" with eight fields of the drug ranging from 10m long by 15m wide to 30m by 300m.
He said all but half of one field had been harvested when police arrested him in mid-2008.
Police still found 22,000 plants and 3.59 tonnes of harvested dried marijuana.
The black market value of what was left amounted to almost $70 million.
The court heard Gardner was still trafficking from inside jail, asking his daughter to sell a recent harvest for $280,000.
Justice Roslyn Atkinson said Gardner was involved in producing, packaging and selling the drug for more than four years.
She said Gardner's submissions his actions were "nothing" compared to "the mass slaughter of the unborn" through abortion was misguided.
"Research, particularly the use of cannabis by the vulnerable and the young, has shown our view of cannabis as a relatively harmless drug was misplaced," she said.
"This was an enormous production and trafficking in cannabis controlled and operated by one man.
"Its moral culpability is increased by his involvement of young family members in this criminal enterprise including his young stepchildren.
"The corrupting influence of involving children in activity of that age is well known."
Barrister Greg McGuire said his client believed he recalled his time in his mother's womb and was growing the cannabis to raise funds for a national media campaign against abortions.
Gardner told the court he had "no regrets" and he intended to grow as much cannabis "as I possibly could" for his campaign.
"To me it is highly chimerical to live in a culture that permits the killing of its children on a mass scale," he said.
"To me it is the same principle the Nazi regime did to Jewish and other minority groups in the Second World War.
"A person growing cannabis, and peacefully I might add .... in no way comes anywhere near the gravity of the massive slaughter of the unborn of this nation that goes on, on a daily basis.
"I think it is dreadful that I live in such a culture. I think for the law to allow such a thing is an abomination.
"I regard abortion clinics organised gangs of abortion racketeers."
Gardner, who has already served 1423 days in custody, must serve at least 80% of his sentence.