Synthetic cannabis blamed for threats to kill

A young Dunedin man was ''psychotic'' on synthetic cannabis when he threatened to kill himself, his former partner and their child by driving into Otago Harbour earlier this year.

Only the quick thinking of 21-year-old Simon Leonard Howell's former partner, who jammed the gear selector lever into the ''park'' position, brought the speeding vehicle to a halt before it reached the harbour wall, Judge Kevin Phillips said in the Dunedin District Court yesterday.

After the incident on Portsmouth Dr, soon after 1pm on March 30, Howell threatened to rob a South Dunedin dairy to get synthetic cannabis. He had a pistol-style BB gun under the driver's seat.

He drove to his parents' place but left after an argument with his former partner and his mother, then drove to his own home. About 20 minutes later, he telephoned his former partner and said if she came to the house again, he would burn it down with her inside.

Because of her concern about the threats, the defendant's mother called the police. She told them about the threats to kill and said her son was ''a chronic user'' of synthetic cannabis and kept a cache of weapons at his house.

Howell was arrested after an armed offenders squad callout to his Mornington flat. He admitted having an extendable baton beside the front door to chase people away. He also admitted cultivating five cannabis plants at his home. He said he was growing the cannabis to try to wean himself off synthetic cannabis.

And he said he regularly threatened his girlfriend ''to get her to shut her mouth''.

Howell was sentenced to four months' home detention for threatening to kill his former partner, with concurrent terms of three months for unlawfully carrying an imitation firearm; two months for cultivating cannabis and unlawfully possessing an offensive weapon and one month for threatening to kill his former partner and their child.

The judge also ordered destruction of the extendable baton and the imitation pistol.

As conditions of his intensive supervision, Howell must attend and complete a stopping violence programme and other counselling and treatment for substance abuse, particularly synthetic cannabis, as directed.

Howell will be subject to those special conditions for another six months after the end of his home detention.

Crown counsel Craig Power said the Crown believed the offending warranted a prison term of about 18 months but accepted a combination of community-based sentences might be the final outcome. If the conditions suggested by the probation officer were part of such a sentence, that could be appropriate, Mr Power said.

It was clear the victim and her daughter, unsurprisingly, had both been significantly affected by what happened.

Defence counsel John Westgate said there was no doubt the incident was serious and had the potential to come ''completely unravelled''.

The police had become involved as a result of Howell's mother phoning them, but she and the defendant's father had offered him ''a huge amount of support''.

Howell had never been in trouble before, but then he ''got hooked'' on synthetic cannabis.

Although the relationship with his partner had been ''fractious'', because of his major addiction to the particular legal high, he could not cope with the ending of that relationship.

Judge Phillips said the victim described the defendant as ''psychotic'' while on the drug.

''As she says, she couldn't get her head around you telling her in the morning you loved her, then threatening to kill her in the evening.''

Mr Westgate said the offending was very out of character and Howell was ''adamant'' he would not go back on legal highs. If, as recommended by probation, the defendant served his home detention in Auckland where he would have work, he would have ''a huge amount of support''.

But Howell was ''one of the lucky ones'' who had the support of his parents.

Judge Phillips said it was relevant that Howell had a young child.

There would be major difficulties with seeing her if he was in Auckland.

The judge took into account the defendant had been in custody since his arrest. That must have been ''a major experience'' for Howell, he said.

He also acknowledged the convictions were Howell's first and that he was motivated to keep off cannabis and synthetic cannabis, although he believed the defendant might have minimised to probation his use of drugs.

And he told Howell that, while the victim had to spend more than $1000 on repairs to her vehicle, the real harm had been emotional. Both she and her child had been mentally and physically strained and were receiving counselling.

''Your offending was serious, as was the impact,'' Judge Phillips said.