Andrew John Katelaris, 63, is on trial at the NSW District Court facing serious cannabis-related charges.
Andrew John Katelaris, 63, is on trial at the NSW District Court facing serious cannabis-related charges.

Deregistered doctor to defend 'draconian' charges

By Sam McKeith

A DEREGISTERED NSW medical practitioner could spend the rest of his life in jail if he's found guilty of a raft of "draconian" cannabis offences, a court has been told.

Andrew John Katelaris, 63, is on trial at the NSW District Court facing serious cannabis-related charges including manufacturing and supplying a large commercial quantity of a prohibited drug and dealing with proceeds of crime.

The charges flow from a May 2017 police search on the St Ives, Sydney, home of Mr Katelaris's former partner where police allegedly found a hidden laboratory, about 8kg of cannabis oil, 10kg of cannabis leaf and $10,000 in the pocket of a trench coat.

The police raid came a few days after a segment on Channel 7's Sunday Night program in which Mr Katelaris allegedly showed a reporter "the lab where he produces cannabis oil".

Mr Katelaris, who was deregistered as a medical practitioner in the mid-2000s, is representing himself at the trial and defending the charges on the basis of "medical necessity".

In his opening address on Thursday, Mr Katelaris described himself as "conscientious objector" to "draconian" cannabis laws, labelling the trial as "anything but an ordinary drug case".

He said he would defend the charges against him by showing his conduct was done to avoid "a greater harm" that was imminent and that it was "proportionate to the good achieved".

He said the trial would hear testimony from patients and family members of those with "intractable epilepsy" whose lives had been transformed after being treated with medical cannabis.

"I'll allow the patients next week to talk on my behalf," he said.

"It's very difficult to appreciate what a trauma it is for parents trying to look after a patient with intractable seizures.

"This case is about conscience."

He pointed to one case where a father, scared his severely epileptic daughter would die, came to him for help after conventional medicine failed.

"It was a fairly dramatic moment," Mr Katelaris said.

"It will be shown that within a month or so of treatment she was transformed from a wheelchair to a pushbike."

In a wide-ranging opening that covered his involvement with "industrial hemp" and medical marijuana since the late 1980s, the doctor said there was a long history of "misunderstanding and fear" associated with the substance.

He acknowledged he could be "incarcerated for life" if found guilty, but insisted he didn't value his life higher than the lives of thousands of children with epilepsy.

"You can either be a servant of justice, or a slave to the law," he put to the jury.

Earlier, crown prosecutor Mark Hobart, SC, told the jury in his opening that the defence of necessity did not apply.

"Necessity doesn't apply here, here we have a breach of the law," Mr Hobart said, arguing that people were not "free to choose" what laws they obeyed.

The barrister said Mr Katelaris did not have a problem breaking the law "because he sees results".

He said evidence would include a 2015 YouTube video called "the pot doctor" and the Sunday Night segment.

The trial continues before Judge Clive Jeffreys.

News Corp Australia