It is a penalty more commonly associated with classroom than court room. But convicted drug dealer Terry Bennett has been told to pay for his crime by writing a 5,000-word essay.
The 32-year-old had been given a suspended prison sentence as well as 240 hours of community service for possessing a kilogram of cannabis with intent to supply.
However, after Judge Julian Lambert heard that a recurring shoulder injury put paid to any physical work, he took the unusual step of ordering Bennett to write a 5,000-word essay on the negative effects of cannabis.
If he fails to submit it by his deadline at the beginning of next month, the suspended sentence could be activated and he would be sent to jail.
Bennett, a father of two who has no previous convictions, was told to write the essay on the ‘dangers of drugs’ at Bristol Crown Court.
The former plumber said yesterday: ‘I asked the judge if I could write a balanced argument for and against cannabis, but he said that since it’s illegal I should only write about the bad things.
‘I’m just going to do my best to write about certain dangers caused by cannabis that people might not know.’
Bennett, who claims jobseeker’s allowance, was originally sentenced in October last year after a police raid on his home in December 2011 uncovered 996g of cannabis and £2,685 in cash.
He then missed two court-ordered work placements at the British Heart Foundation in Kingswood, Bristol. He had been given the job of moving heavy furniture, but could not carry out the work because of the injury.
Bennett has been carrying out research and plans to structure his thesis around the mental health consequences of smoking cannabis.
He added: ‘I’ve got a drugs conviction, so for me to subsequently take on a more serious role in society it is imperative that I prove to everyone that I’m clean and steering clear of cannabis, purely because it is illegal.’
Bennett, who lives with his mother in the village of Cold Ashton, near Bristol, admitted the charges but was unable to do the unpaid work because of a shoulder injury he suffered during a snowboarding holiday six years ago.
As well as the essay, which has to be handed in to his probation office, Judge Lambert gave Bennett a four-month curfew order between 8pm until 6am and is currently wearing an electronic tag.
He also voluntarily provides samples to be tested for drugs, so social services will allow him access to his sons, who live with their mothers.
Bennett said: ‘Hopefully the essay should be quite good, but it’s been ages since I last wrote an essay. I have already done a bit of research. I’ve always loved writing.’