B.C. 'compassion club' owner finally has cannabis trafficking sentence overturned

In a sign of the changing times, a B.C. Court has sided with a cannabis dispensary owner and overturned his sentence for trafficking marijuana.

The three-judge panel at the British Columbia Court of Appeal allowed Robert James Woolsey's appeal, quashing his earlier sentence and ordering a conditional discharge instead.

The move means that, provided the 66-year-old adheres to a probation order for six months, he will not have a criminal record.

The case dates back to 2015 when Woolsey owned and operated a "Compassion Club" dispensary in Deroche, B.C.

The Nov. 23 decision says Woolsey had been using cannabis for medical purposes for 40 years after being diagnosed as hyperactive as a teenager.

In late 2015, while running the dispensary, he sold cannabis to undercover police officers who didn't show the necessary paperwork that allowed them to buy cannabis for medical reasons.

Woolsey was arrested and charged and eventually convicted of five counts of trafficking in cannabis.

However, by the time he was set to be sentenced in April 2018 marijuana legalization was only months away.

That predicament was the focus of much of the original judge's deliberations at the time of sentencing.

"It is difficult, of course, to sentence someone for something that is an offence on Monday that might not be an offence on Tuesday and it presents some difficulties," the judge that sentenced Woolsey said at the time.

The judge even seemed surprised the case was in front of the courts.

"I have to say, in fact, I honestly cannot remember the last time, other than this case, that I have seen a marijuana-related offence prosecuted because of the transition that is going on," the judge said in the decision.

The judge also appeared to sympathize with Woolsey's situation, pointing out Woolsey had a legitimate desire to help individuals with illnesses and wasn't selling cannabis simply to make money getting people high.

"All of this still leaves me perplexed with the appropriate sentence in this case," the judge said. "I have difficulty in reaching the conclusion that this calls for a jail sentence... particularly because of the fact that the landscape might be quite different a year from now and that it is hard to justify sending somebody to jail for something that the person with the passage of a few more calendar months could do with impunity."

However, the original judge still sentenced Woolsey to time served – he spent one day in jail – and fined him $1,250.

Woolsey made several attempts to have the case overturned but lost each time in both the Provincial and Supreme courts until Nov. 23, when the B.C. Court of Appeal finally sided with Woolsey saying he should have been given a conditional discharge all along.

He will not have a criminal record which could have prohibited travel outside of Canada.

Justice Patrice Abrioux points out this is important to Woolsey who is in talks with people in Jamaica to set up compassion clubs in the country for low-income residents.

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