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B.C. Kills Mandatory Minimum Sentences for Marijuana Producers

Aerial View of Kelowna, British Columbia

In a triumph for sanity and compassion, British Columbia has declared mandatory minimum prison sentences for cannabis producers to be unconstitutional.

The unwitting engine of this development: Keith Steven Elliott, a man in the southern B.C. city of Kelowna, who spent two years working a $20-an-hour job trimming homegrown cannabis destined for resale on the black market. When the grow-op was busted in 2013, Elliott found himself charged under Canada’s Controlled Drugs and Substances Act, which mandates a six-month minimum prison sentence for anyone caught producing between six and 200 plants for the purpose of trafficking. (The grow-op employing Elliott held 195 plants.)

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Elliott’s path to mandatory imprisonment took a turn at his sentencing, where the sentencing judge took aim at the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act’s fundamental propriety. As InfoNews reports, “The sentencing judge found [the mandatory minimum] provision unconstitutional based on a complex legal test that examines whether or not the mandatory minimum would be grossly disproportionate for hypothetical offenders.”

As the sentencing judge declared in court, “I note that a six-month sentence is typical for a first-time trafficker involved in a relatively sophisticated commercial dial-a-dope operation. Imposing that sentence on a 19-year-old student or a migraine sufferer who is growing six plants intending to share them with friends would, in my view, be abhorrent to most Canadians.” To avoid such abhorrence, the judge declined to send Elliott to jail, letting him go with a suspended sentence with two years of probation.

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Soon after, the Crown appealed the ruling, and the case proceeded to the B.C. Court of Appeal, which on June 9 upheld the sentencing judge’s decision. “The mandatory minimum has been struck down as unconstitutional,” lawyer John Conroy told InfoNews, noting the decision is binding on all B.C. courts and could be used as precedent to fight mandatory minimums in other provinces.

Potential twist: The Crown still has time to appeal the case, in which case it would proceed to the Supreme Court of Canada. Stay tuned.