Drug charges plea changed

Cannabis seemed to be like ''gold dust'' in Queenstown and if you had some, everyone wanted to ''smoke your weed'', a defendant appearing on drug charges told police during an interview.

Benjamin Luke Gillard (29), landscape gardener, of Queenstown, appeared before Judge Michael Turner in the Queenstown District Court yesterday.

Gillard originally pleaded not guilty to charges of offering to supply a class C controlled drug (cannabis) to a person over 18, between January 13 and February 21; offering to supply a class B controlled drug (cannabis resin) to a person over 18 on January 20; and possessing a class C controlled drug (cannabis) for purposes set out under the Misuse of Drugs Act, between January 13 and February 18.

The offences all took place in Queenstown.

However, he changed his plea to guilty partway through yesterday's defended hearing. He was convicted and remanded on bail to September 22 for sentencing.

Gillard, from England, and on holiday here, was ordered to surrender his passport to police.

Judge Turner asked for the pre-sentence report to consider the possibility of home detention but told Gillard that was no indication as to the outcome of sentencing.

Earlier in the hearing, the court was played a video recording of the defendant being interviewed by Acting Sergeant Mark Caswell after cannabis was found during a search of Gillard's home.

The defendant told Acting Sgt Caswell he was in New Zealand on a tourist visa and was not working as he was living off an inheritance from his father.

The questions from police revolved around a transcript of texts sent from and received on the defendant's cellphone.

In the video interview, Gillard admitted he smoked cannabis and paid about $450 an ounce (28.3g), ''which lasts me a long time''.

He was generous and shared it with friends, so they could smoke together.

Gillard said he had to change his cellphone number because of the barrage of calls he received from friends when he had cannabis - ''it's like gold dust in this town''.

Acting Detective Sergeant Regan Boucher, of the Police Southern District organised crime squad, gave evidence of universal codes used in texts by people involved in drugs and ''case-specific'' terms, referring to drugs. Universal codes and case-specific terms were used in the texts on Gillard's phone, he said.

Prosecutor Sergeant Ian Collin said there was an inference by the defendant that there was a ''shortage of cannabis'' at the time in Queenstown ''and that's why when he got it, he received a barrage of calls''.

Acting Det Sgt Boucher said: ''Cannabis is readily available in Queenstown, from my experience.''

In response to a question from defence counsel Sonia Vidal, Acting Det Sgt Boucher said there was no reference in the defendant's phone transcripts to any money being exchanged for drugs.