News / Kitchener

Crown, defence differ over time for grow-op crime

KITCHENER — Were two local men involved in a sophisticated marijuana growing operation or a “Mickey-Mouse” scheme that didn’t earn them a penny and doesn’t deserve to land them behind bars?

That’s what Justice John Lynch will have to decide before he sentences the men in August.

The Crown and defence were far apart Wednesday in the sentences they recommended for Kenneth Meaney and George Gobran in Kitchener’s Ontario Court.

Federal prosecutor Clyde Bond called Gobran “the operating mind’’ behind three indoor marijuana grow operations that netted police more than 6,000 marijuana plants and more than 100 kilograms of street-ready marijuana last spring.

Waterloo Regional Police found the grow-ops in Cambridge, Kitchener and Blandford-Blenheim Township in June, 2011.

One was in a commercial building at 55 Shoemaker St. in an industrial area of Kitchener. The others were in rooms in a barn rented from a pig farmer and in a Cambridge barn.

Police also found packaged marijuana in two storage units on Industrial Road in Cambridge.

Bond asked the judge to send Gobran, a 42-year-old Kitchener man, to prison for five to seven years. He said Meaney, a 50-year-old Cambridge man, deserves two years in prison.

Defence lawyer Randall Barrs, who represents both men, considers those sentences “beyond the pale.’’

He said the men are first offenders who “led blameless lives’’ and raised kids until they were laid off from the A.G. Simpson plant in Cambridge in 2007.

Their severance ran out. Meaney was diagnosed with prostate cancer and started smoking marijuana to deal with chronic pain after surgery.

Gobran ran up $100,000 in gambling debts, started drinking and using cocaine. He shook those addictions in a rehabilitation program. But he still had the large debt to deal with.

“He reached the point where he decided foolishly he’d try to make some money on marijuana,’’ Barrs said.

Meaney had tried to work despite his pain and got low-paying part-time jobs from time to time.

In January, 2011, the two men pooled their money and started growing marijuana at 55 Shoemaker St. Gobran admitted it was to clear his debt. Meaney wanted to grow some for his personal use and to make some money.

Just before he was arrested, Gobran found out he had been granted a licence to grow medical marijuana for up to four customers. Meaney, who ultimately got a licence to use medical marijuana, was going to be one of them.

Barrs called Meaney an “underling’’ in the “small, short-lived operation.’’

“This is not a criminal. This is a guy who made a mistake,’’ he said.

The grow-ops were set up by “two guys who’d never done it before. This is your basic, run-of-the-mill, mid-range grow,’’ Barrs said.

Meaney pleaded guilty to possessing marijuana for the purpose of trafficking in relation to the Shoemaker operation and packaged marijuana police found at his home,

Barrs asked for a conditional sentence of six to 12 months for Meaney, and two years less a day for Gobran.

Gobran pleaded guilty to several counts of possessing pot for the purpose of trafficking.

Bond had a far different view of the marijuana-growing scheme. He estimated the drugs were conservatively worth between $1.6 million and $2.5 million if sold by the pound, depending on their quality. Gobran started the operation solely for financial gain, Bond said.

The defence countered that many of the plants were babies or seedlings.

Bond said the Safe Streets and Community Act passed by Parliament in March shows how seriously the government views crimes involving marijuana growing.

The act increases prison sentences for marijuana offences and includes mandatory minimum sentences for grow operations in certain circumstances. It comes into effect in November, Bond said.

“The government has said the growing of marijuana … is a very serious problem that needs to be addressed seriously by the courts,’’ Bond said.

But Barrs said those measures have nothing to do with this case.

Besides, “Ninety-nine per cent of the educated population think (marijuana) should be legal,’’ he added.

A third man, Martin Kenneth Hackborn of Cambridge, was fined $500 for possessing firearms without a licence and possessing marijuana.

One of the pot-growing operations was in Hackborn’s barn. He lives on a farm with his wife and two sons.

In his house, police found 100 grams of cannabis resin extracted from plants in the barn.

Hackborn was trying to get a licence for medical marijuana before he was arrested. He was in a bad car accident in 2004 which left him in a coma for months. He emerged with permanent brain damage and deals with constant pain.

He was trying to cultivate some plants, Barrs said. He eventually did get the licence.

More on