The jail sentence of a man who had been growing cannabis in a hidden shipping container on his farm property has been scrapped after the County Court judge called it a "pathetic" attempt at cultivation.
Michael Houston, 49, had 36 cannabis seedlings and heat lighting in the container, which was buried underground with access via a trap door and ladder leading down from a dog kennel.
When Corryong police raided the Mount Alfred property on July 18, 2019, they also seized one kilogram of cannabis in the house, a .22-calibre rifle lying in a hammock, a silencer and ammunition in various locations around the house.
Houston was banned from owning firearms because of intervention orders taken out against him, but the guns were registered to his father.
He was sentenced to a maximum of 12 months in jail when he appeared in Wodonga Magistrates Court in November 2019, after being told it was "appalling" to have firearms and ammunition around the house, but appealed that sentence in the County Court on Thursday.
County Court Judge Frances Hogan said photographs showed only a few of the 36 cannabis seedlings had actually survived.
"I'm approaching 20 years on this bench and this is probably the most pathetic attempt to cultivate cannabis I've ever seen," she said.
"Mr Houston is a very good cattle farmer, but when it comes to cultivating cannabis maybe that is not his forte."
He was instead sentenced to a two-year community corrections order with the conditions to continue mental health treatment.
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Judge Hogan said it was appropriate that guns registered to Houston's father were on the property for legitimate farming use, and all but one were in a locked shed.
She said it was "very careless" for Houston to leave the other one lying around, but noted he pleaded guilty to the offence.
Crown prosecutor Andrew Buckland argued that even though Houston said the cannabis was for personal use, the one kilogram of the drug located was four times what police define as a "traffickable quantity", and he had attempted to cultivate 36 plants in a container hidden underground.
Houston has been diagnosed with bipolar and depression, and has shoulder and back pain - he used the drugs to self-medicate.
"I'm very conscious of my power to take away people's liberty and I'm also very conscious that jail should be a sentence of last resort ... I have a firm opinion that it shouldn't be the sentence imposed in this case," Judge Hogan said.
"It's not as sinister as it first appears because firearms do have a legitimate place on a farming property."
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