A judge in Kelowna declined to consider the presence of fentanyl an aggravating factor in handing down a sentence for trafficking the highly potent and potentially deadly synthetic opioid, saying it's up to Canadian lawmakers to dictate how the drug should be handled by the courts.
Matthew Hickson was handed a 28-month prison sentence on Monday after pleading guilty to two counts of possession of a controlled substance for the purpose of trafficking – one for cocaine, the other for fentanyl.
The Crown had been seeking a four-year prison sentence, citing lengthy terms of incarceration for fentanyl dealers in Ontario and entering into evidence reports about the serious and sometimes deadly implications of fentanyl use.
Justice Hope Hyslop of the B.C. Supreme Court said cocaine and fentanyl, both considered Schedule 1 controlled substances under Canadian law, should be treated the same in court.
"Until Parliament legislates otherwise, I will make no distinction in sentencing Mr. Hickson," she said.
Hyslop did, however, acknowledge the drug's serious potential impacts.
"The danger with fentanyl lies with the potency and possible overdose risk," she said. "Fentanyl is 50 to 100 times more potent than morphine. Drug overdose deaths in British Columbia have been increasing."
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In April, B.C.'s chief medical health officer declared a medical state of emergency due to the skyrocketing number of overdose deaths in the province, the majority as a result of fentanyl use.
But Hyslop said there was no evidence Hickson knew he was carrying fentanyl when he was busted by police during a traffic stop in Merritt.
Court heard the 32-year-old was under police surveillance on Nov. 5, 2014, when he was pulled over en route to Kamloops from the Lower Mainland. Inside his vehicle, police found $38,000 worth of cocaine and 490 fentanyl pills.
The fentanyl pills, court heard, were stamped to look like Percocet.
Elsewhere in the vehicle, police found steroids, marijuana, magic mushrooms and a cutting agent used by cocaine dealers to increase profits.
A federal Crown prosecutor relied on a number of cases from Ontario courts where fentanyl traffickers have received strict sentences, including a first-time offender ordered to spend six years behind bars.
The Ontario dealers were providing fentanyl patches, not fake Percocet.
Defence lawyer Jeremy Jensen had urged Hyslop to avoid making a rash decision based on "media and moral outrage" against fentanyl.
In her decision, Hyslop said there was no evidence Hickson knew he was carrying fentanyl, unlike the fentanyl-patch dealing traffickers in Ontario.
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