Home detention terms for ‘zombie drug’ importation

November 1, 2017 | By More

Two men who imported a batch of “ultra-potent zombie drug” to make synthetic cannabis, will be allowed to serve sentences on home detention.

The drug – AMB-Fubinaca – had been linked to 10 deaths in July in Auckland, Christchurch District Court Judge Alistair Garland noted as he imposed the sentences.

He also ordered the pair – Tipa Huki Moetu, 32, and Steven Reece Galbraith, 30 – to do 300 hours of community work.

Moetu will serve eight months on home detention and Galbraith, a father-of-four, will serve six months for importing enough of the psychoactive substance to make synthetic cannabis with a potential street value of $500,000.

They will both have to undertake assessment and interventions for alcohol and drug use during their sentences, and not consume illicit drugs.

Judge Garland said he was sceptical of Moetu’s “enthusiasm for rehabilitation” because he imported the drug while he was on intensive supervision and was telling his probation officer that he was “entirely on board” and drug-free.

Police submissions to the judge said AMB-Fubinaca was reported by the media as being “an ultra-potent zombie drug” with medical journals claiming it was 85 times as potent as THC – the active ingredient in cannabis.

“I am told that it is discussed in the mainstream media as being linked to 10 deaths in July in Auckland alone,” said the judge. “This is the raw psychoactive material that is necessary for the manufacture of synthetic cannabis.”

Galbraith and Moetu both pleaded guilty to the charge of importing the non-approved psychoactive substance, and Moetu also admitted a charge of refusing to give the police the PIN number for access to his cellphone. The importing offence carries a maximum two-year jail term.

The parcel was intercepted by customs at the International Mail Centre in Auckland on June 21. It was addressed to Galbraith at his home address in Hei Hei, Christchurch, and described as containing “organic pigment”.

Police and customs replaced it with another substance and completed a controlled delivery. After it arrived, Galbraith arranged to meet Moetu and handed him the package. Police then stepped in.

Moetu said he had bought the package from Galbraith for $240. Galbraith told police he had been asked if he could get a car alarm delivered to his house and was unaware of the contents.

Judge Garland said the pair obviously had the substance to sell because there was no evidence that they intended to manufacture synthetic cannabis themselves. He said the courts regarded importers as being more culpable than dealers.

Defence counsel for Galbraith, Shannon-Leigh Litt referred to pressure being put on her client “in relation to retribution” to make him take part. He had no addiction issues and made no commercial gain. He had a history of depression.

“He’s been stupid. He’s learned his lesson,” she said, urging a community detention sentence.

For Moetu, Kiran Paima said the drugs would have been for his own use. He had been in the grips of a synthetic cannabis habit which had “pervaded his everyday life”.

“He says he wants to change,” Mr Paima said.

Judge Garland said he was sceptical of Moetu’s claim that he was now drug-free and enthusiastic for rehabilitation, when he had deceived his probation officer by committing the importing offence while on intensive supervision “with directed drug and alcohol intervention”.

Judge Garland said: “This importation was intended to facilitate large scale offending in relation to synthetic cannabis. The simplicity of an operation can aid its effectiveness in avoiding detection. Fortunately, that didn’t happen on this occasion.”

The judge said that in spite of Moetu’s deception, his probation officer wanted to persevere with him and his alcohol and drug rehabilitation programme. “I am prepared to give you the chance to try again, but I am going to maintain some oversight,” said Judge Garland.

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