'Cannabis bar' suppliers escape jail

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Three people who supplied chocolate bars laced with cannabis to multiple sclerosis sufferers walked free from court yesterday.

Mark Gibson, 42, his wife Lezley, 42, who has multiple sclerosis (MS), and Marcus Davies, 36, were each given a nine-month jail term, suspended for two years. Judge John Phillips, sentencing the three at Carlisle Crown Court, said he accepted their motives were "altruistic", that they had a genuine desire to help people who were suffering and that no profit was made from the operation.

He let them walk free despite current sentencing guidelines that recommend a significant custodial sentence. All three defendants had argued that the drug eased the symptoms of MS and believed they had a defence of medical necessity but that was rejected by a jury last month.

The decision not to imprison them comes in the week that Tory leader David Cameron said on his webcameron website that he would be "relaxed" about legalising cannabis for medicinal use if there were evidence of its health benefits.

The defendants' "cottage industry" made and supplied 20,000 Canna-Biz bars, each containing about 2g of the drug. Customers made a donation to cover costs and had to provide a medical note confirming their condition. The Gibsons, of Alston, Cumbria, insisted it was a free service and they made no secret of their activity, with advertisements in the media. Cumbria Police were also said to have been aware of their operation. Cash receipts totalling £30,000 were seized but Mrs Gibson told officers the money had been ploughed back into production of the bars.

Mr Davies, of St Ives, Cambridgeshire, admitted running a website and post office box for the not-for-profit organisation Therapeutic Help from Cannabis for Multiple Sclerosis, thc4ms.org, but had denied any involvement in making or posting the chocolates. They were all convicted last month of two counts each of conspiring to supply cannabis.

The Gibsons said they would appeal against their conviction.