If Kelly van Gaalen is reading this article, she'll be reading it in prison.

I don't know her personally. If you Google her, though, you'll see that last December she was one of 15 recipients of Northland's Local Hero medal, acknowledging her efforts in a community that has had more than its share of tough times.

She's a former member of the Kaikohe-Hokianga Community Board, the former chair of the Kaikohe Community Arts Council and the former promotions manager for the Kaikohe Business Association.

But all those positions are prefixed by "former" because — remember — van Gaalen is in prison.


Last year her family was the victim of a home invasion. Three men broke in and beat up her husband. In the aftermath, police officers discovered a plump bag of dried marijuana in the van Gaalens' home.

It was a big bag and van Gaalen acknowledged it was hers — all 684g, 24 times the limit for personal use.

Her explanation was she had two marijuana plants and one grew especially well. She had smoked the drug daily since her teens and shared her supply with as many as 20 friends.

Don't forget, the police had only been called to her house out of happenstance. No one had laid a complaint about the marijuana and the police found no evidence of money-for-drugs dealing.

There were no incriminating texts on van Gaalen's phone, no wads of cash under the floorboards and no sawn-off shotguns on the kitchen bench.

So what happened?

Did the police use discretion and destroy the drugs? Did the justice system allow her to stay home and raise her kids? Did the 32 character references provided in court allow for a discharge without conviction or a community sentence?

Nope. Despite her "extremely worthwhile contribution" to Kaikohe, in the words of the presiding judge, the 38-year-old's plight ended in lunacy.

Van Gaalen, home invasion victim, mother of three, Local Hero medal recipient and general menace of Kaikohe, was sentenced to two years in prison.

But, hey, enjoy your weekend.

Jack Tame is on Newstalk ZB Saturdays, 9am-midday
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