By Joe Fries
Special to OsoyoosToday
Less than two months before the planned legalization of recreational cannabis in Canada, a Summerland man caught with nearly 20,000 marijuana plants intended to help supply the market has been handed a two-year prison term.
Blake Sutherland, 36, pleaded guilty to production of a controlled substance and possession of a controlled substance for the purpose of trafficking and was sentenced Monday in B.C. Supreme Court in Penticton.
Court heard he was arrested in February 2015 outside a home he rented on the 11000 block of Sinclair Road in Summerland.
Mr. Sutherland later told police he didn’t intend for the clones to reach maturity and produce bud for consumption, but rather to sell the baby plants to other growers for up to $4 each.
“Even if Mr. Sutherland was selling some or all of the plants at the clone level, it’s still a very profitable enterprise, and it still brings a lot of harms and risks to the residence and to the community,” said Ms. Wilson.
“Regardless of Mr. Sutherland’s or society’s opinion on the legality of marijuana, it’s still illegal and certainly was back at the time of this offence.”
Ms. Wilson, who called for the two-year prison term, noted there was a mandatory minimum sentence of three years in effect at the time of Sutherland’s arrest, but the penalty has since been struck down as unconstitutional.
She cited as aggravating factors the grow-op site being a rental property, the overall size of the production and the presence of two young children in the home at the time of the police raid.
Defence counsel James Pennington, who agreed with Wilson’s request for a two-year sentence, replied that the children, who belonged to Sutherland’s girlfriend, were only at the home for a visit and his client had taken steps to ensure the kids couldn’t get into the grow rooms.
Pennington also emphasized that Sutherland accepted responsibility for the operation and was co-operative with police, and that his client was relatively new to the marijuana business, having jumped into it in anticipation of the drug’s legalization.
Mr. Sutherland “was looking to get to know the operation, the ins and outs of growing, hopefully to be in a position to hit the ground running, if and when the law changed,” said Pennington.
Justice Murray Blok went along with the lawyers’ sentencing recommendation, but not before chastising Sutherland for allowing children into the grow-op home.
“It is an atrocious circumstance to have children — any children, let alone children of that age — around an operation of this type,” said Justice Blok.
“Not merely for the dangers associated with the plants and the operation itself and the air, but for the potential of violence that these operations carry with them for a variety of reasons.”
Joe Fries is an editor and writer at the Penticton Herald. OsoyoosToday and the Herald share an informal editorial use agreement.