A MAN who began growing his own cannabis in order to smoke the drug for pain relief has been given a suspended jail sentence.

Philip Newnham increased his intake of the drug to such an extent that he decided he would save money by growing it himself.

His barrister Kieran Rainey told Teesside Crown Court that Newnham picked up a viral infection which led to arthritis.

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He explained: “It was already a frequent thing for him, but when he suffered this condition he increased his cannabis use in addition to the medication he was on to try and relieve the pain.”

Police found 35 cannabis plants in an upstairs bedroom at the defendant's home in November last year said to be capable of producing 487 grams of the drug worth an estimated £4,870.

Newnham, 44, of Barningham Street, Darlington, admitted a single offence of producing cannabis on the basis that he planned to store the majority of it for his own personal use.

However he accepted that he occasionally sold a small amount to fellow smokers in order to recoup some of the costs of his outlay.

Mr Rainey, who said Newnham paid £30 for the plant cuttings, claimed the defendant's cannabis intake had decreased enormously and his “debilitating” health condition had also improved.

Judge Peter Bowers said he accepted Newnham's explanation, but warned him and others about the use of cannabis for medicinal purposes.

He told him: “You have got to learn as have others that cannabis is not to be used for pain relief. It is a criminal offence.”

The judge said he was prepared to give Newnham – who has 19 previous criminal convictions - a chance and suspended a nine month jail sentence on him for 18 months.

He said: “You have been given a chance – it is the last chance you will get.”

Newnham, who was warned he would be jailed should he return to court in the next 18 months, thanked the judge as he left the court a free man.