The owner of the Canna Kitchen has been cleared of selling cannabis after a jury took just half an hour to reach a verdict.
Sammy Ben Rabah, also known as Sam Evolution, was charged with two counts of supplying a Class B drug after police raided the Duke Street restaurant and the Hemp Dispensary shop above.
At his trial at Hove Crown Court last week, he argued that he believed the CBD flowers he was selling were legal, as they had extremely low levels of THC, the psychoactive substance which produces regular cannabis’s high.
His defence counsel argued this meant he had not broken the law, as the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 specifically gives a defence of being unaware a product on sale is a proscribed drug.
However, police stressed that selling CBD flowers is still illegal – and said it will continue to inspect cannabis vendors in Brighton and Hove.
Mr Ben Rabah, 34, told Brighton and Hove News that after an undercover officer first visited the shop in March 2019, Sussex Police had initially offered to work with him to ensure all the products he was selling were legal.
He says he provided paperwork, lab analysis reports and voluntary samples, on the basis police would be in touch again if there were any issues.
But instead, a few weeks later the restaurant and shop were raided.
He said: “I am very pleased to have cleared my name from any charges of wrongdoing in this case.
The heavy-handed police raid was in my view both unjustified and unethical based on prior collaborative commitments made by Sussex Police.
It was entirely unnecessary, being a complete waste of public funds for a three year police operation (Operation Kneecap) and subsequent lengthy crown court trial process.
“If the police had simply honoured the commitments made originally we could have had further dialogue as necessary, establishing which (if any) hemp items needed to be removed from sale.
“This would have enabled me to continue with the innovative business we had built on Duke Street; my means to support my young family, and sixteen of my staff could still be employed in the city centre.
“I am pleased that the truth has been revealed finally through the court process, and am grateful to my legal counsel Josh Normanton, the judge and members of the jury for their fair assessment of the case.”
He said he now intends to continue promoting the recognition of plants beneficial to the health of humans and the planet, and to facilitate their use.
Mr Ben Rabah’s defence counsel Josh Normanton said: “The case is well known throughout the CBD industry due to the prominence of the restaurant and widespread discussion about the legality of ‘hemp flower’.
“Mr Ben Rabah was acquitted after 30 minutes of jury deliberation.
“The argument successfully advanced on Mr Ben Rabah’s behalf was in part that (at least part of) the material sold was not cannabis and in part that he could properly rely on the ‘knowledge defence’ pursuant to s.28 of the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971.”
Detective Superintendent Mike Ashcroft said: “Cannabis is a controlled substance and, while permitted as an ingredient in certain products, it is classed as a Class B drug if it contains any trace of the chemical THC. CBD flowers, for example, fall under this definition and are therefore illegal.
“Ignorance of the law is not a defence. Business owners selling cannabis products have a responsibility to ensure the goods they supply are safe, legal and that unsuspecting customers are not inadvertently buying banned substances, leaving them at risk of harm and potentially prosecution.
“In this case, the illegality of the substances seized was never in dispute and we will continue to vigorously inspect cannabis vendors in the city to ensure they are aware of, and compliant with, the law.”
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