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Pain in the grass Chef suffering from chronic back pain prosecuted over €4 worth of cannabis

Last week, the part-time chef and gardener found himself pleading guilty at Bantry District Court to possession of the tiny amount of the illegal drug.

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Paul Lee had €4 of cannabis seized in a raid

Paul Lee had €4 of cannabis seized in a raid

Paul Lee had €4 of cannabis seized in a raid

A disabled father-of-four charged and taken to court after being caught with just €4 worth of cannabis has blasted Ireland's drug laws as 'a complete joke.'

Osteoporosis sufferer Paul Lee (54), who has multiple fractures in his spine and hip linked to the disease, uses cannabis to control his pain.

The Bantry resident, who lost four years of his life to heroin addiction, says he is terrified of using opioid-based drugs, prescribed to him for pain relief, as he says "just half of one of those pills will turn me into a junkie again".

Last week, the part-time chef and gardener found himself pleading guilty at Bantry District Court to possession of the tiny amount of the illegal drug.

He handed over a grinder containing the substance to gardai when they raided his home on the outskirts of Bantry, Co Cork on July 19 last year.

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Paul Lee talks with  Patrick O'Connell

Paul Lee talks with Patrick O'Connell

Paul Lee talks with Patrick O'Connell

Paul has six previous convictions, including five for possession of cannabis, the most recent dating from 2016.

Judge John King said: "I would not consider community service until I know he is clean."

Paul said he would engage with that process with the Probation Service and the judge directed that a probation report be prepared for later in the year, to include two random urine-analysis tests.

Speaking with the Sunday World, Paul outlined how his condition leaves him in almost constant pain.

"I have osteoporosis," he said.

"At the moment, I have between five and seven fractures in my spine. I've have problems in my hip and possibly a blown disc.

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"It's a genetic disease. My grandmother had it, we've all had it.

"And I've been treated for it for the last five to six years in Bantry.

"I could be in a wheelchair in three to five years over it.

"I don't want to be and I'm doing everything I can to stay mentally and physically strong. But it is continuous pain and I'm in pain right now."

Detailing the medication he has been prescribed to cope with this pain, Paul continued: "Per day, I've been prescribed two 150mg slow-release Palexia, four 50mg Palexia - that's all morphine - and one Anxicalm, which is the new word for Valium. But I don't take any of that. I take a small amount of cannabis."

Asked why he won't take the prescribed drugs, Paul says they would lead his losing everything and everyone he loves.

"I came to Dublin in the late '80s to get away from my heroin addiction in England," he said.

"Looking back now that seems mad - there was more heroin in Dublin back then there was in England!

"From nine in the morning there were young lads on the steps of Oliver Bond [the flat complex] selling smack. And that was 32 years ago. But I did get off heroin when I came to Ireland. And I don't ever want to end up back on it.

"I spent four years as a teenager banging up heroin and they gave me all this stuff for my pain.

"I mean, I was like 'phwoar, I could have taken 20 of them at a time. Give me some alcohol and I'm off baby'.

"But I know if I even take half of one of those tablets, that's it, I'm gone.

"If I was on that stuff, you'd have called to me today, and I wouldn't have a house.

"If I took all that - morphine and a Valium each day - do you honestly think I'd be here able to talk to you like this?

"I'd be looking for smack in town or off in Cork or Dublin, like all the other junkies, robbing to try and get my next fix. Because of back pain?

"Well, I'm not going back to that life. Smack already took four years of my life. I'm a family man, for God's sake. I cook roast dinners every Sunday.

"I have my children and a grand-daughter I haven't even seen yet because of Covid.

"I've worked in this town for years and I know everyone and I have never given anyone any hassle.

"But effectively I'm being criminalised because of my medical condition.

"I can honestly stand up anywhere in front of anyone and say I can't understand what I'm going wrong here.

"I'm not saying to legalise cannabis for everyone across the board.

"I'm not saying everyone should be sitting around getting stoned or bombed on it.

"As far as it goes with cannabis, legalise or at least decriminalise it for medical need. Stop arresting me and stop bringing me in to court.

"All I'm asking is that the politicians and government exercise a little common sense."

Asked what the reaction of local people had been to the publicity over his recent court appearance, Paul answered: "I mean it is embarrassing that everyone now knows I was a heroin addict.

"But at least people now know why I don't want to take all that stuff that is being prescribed to me. If I took all the stuff, I'd be a zombie.

"It's time to change these laws.

"It's ridiculous. It's a joke and I would happily go to prison to see them changed.

"What is the sense of making criminals out of people who are just trying to live?"

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