Switched On Gardener verdicts in

The owner and general manager of Switched on Gardener have been found guilty of drugs charges but were acquitted on the more serious charge of belonging to an organised criminal group.

The jury returned their verdicts today after deliberating for more than 14 hours over three days at the Auckland District Court, following a nine-week trial.

The company's owner was found guilty of possessing and supplying equipment to grow cannabis.

Those on trial included owner Michael Quinlan, general manager Peter John Bennett, business development manager Ricky Cochrane, distribution manager Andrew Barry Mai and the South Island manager Paul Kenneth Barlow.

Quinlan and Bennett have been remanded for sentencing until February.

Cochrane, Barlow and Mai were acquitted of all charges and have walked free.

The Crown said Switched on Gardener was a "one-stop shop'' for cannabis growing equipment. Marijuana was allegedly smoked at the staff Christmas party and some of the 16 shops around the country were hooked up with extractor fans allowing staff to smoke the Class C drug during their breaks.

The Crown also said cannabis was smoked by management at stock-taking sessions.

The prosecution relied on evidence from undercover police officers who posed as customers and spoke to staff at shops around the country. Some were able to buy cannabis plants and ounces of the drug from shop staff.

But Judge Gus Andree Wiltens - who summed up the case on Monday - said the case was not about the workers at the coalface.

The Crown doesn't say each of the accused supplied the equipment. They are at the higher echelon, they are the managers and the owner. They are not on the shop floor.''

He said the Crown's case was that the drug activity went on with the permission of the bosses or with them turning a blind eye.

Even the shop's logo included a marijuana leaf and some of the company's vans had number plates that included "bud one'' and "bud freight''.

But Judge Wiltens said there were "two sides of the story''.

He said Quinlan was effectively retired at the close of the police operation, code-named Operation Lime.

"He doesn't go to the shop on a day-to-day basis. He's more into the Warriors [rugby league team] and good on him.''

Judge Wiltens said Bennett told staff there was to be no drugs on site and if they got caught they were on their own.

Cochrane's defence was that he brought the equipment in from overseas but had no say in what was sold in the shops. Mai's lawyer said he was paid only $16 an hour and filled the orders from the individual shops at the company's west Auckland headquarters.

Barlow's lawyer said he was responsible only for the South Island.

Judge Wiltens said the defence case was that the only illegal activity was occurring at the bottom of the business structure, and bosses could not be held responsible.

Many of the Switched on Gardener employees caught up in the undercover operation have pleaded guilty to supplying equipment to grow drugs.

The judge said the defence had also shown that some of the equipment sold at Switched on Gardener shops was also sold at police auctions.

"It's all about the line - what is lawful and what is not.''

Judge Andree Wiltens also warned the jurors to ignore their personal views on marijuana laws.

"Some people may not like the fact that possession of cannabis and the consumption of cannabis is against the law, but it is.

"Regardless of whether you might like the fact - it is illegal.''

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