Fentanyl dealers should face harsher sentences: B.C. Court of Appeals

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THOMPSON-OKANAGAN - The B.C. Court of Appeal has ruled a higher sentencing range for fentanyl traffickers is necessary amid the province's opioid crisis.

According to a written decision from the province's highest court, the current range for first time offenders for trafficking fentanyl is between six and 12 months, but three Appeals Court judges have agreed a sentencing range of 18 to 36 months or more is more suitable.

This decision stems from a Crown appeal on the six-month sentence for Frank Stanley Smith, a man who pleaded guilty to one count of possession of cocaine for the purpose of trafficking and one count of possession of fentanyl for the purpose of trafficking.

Crown argued in its appeal that the sentencing judge had erred in principle, leading to a "demonstrably unfit" sentence, "particularly given the inherent danger of accidental death associated with consuming fentanyl."

Smith was sentenced late last year. The appeal on Smith's sentence was not granted, but a panel of B.C. Court of Appeal judges decided a higher sentencing range was necessary to denounce fentanyl trafficking.

"On this occasion, the change we must consider is the proliferation of fentanyl and the fatal consequences of its illegal sale and distribution," Judge Mary Newbury said in her decision. "I agree with the many judges who have stated that denunciation and deterrence must generally be given primacy in sentencing in cases involving fentanyl. To this end, I would suggest a normal range beginning at 18 months’ imprisonment."

Judge David Harris said in his decision that it would be helpful to have a higher range of sentencing for street-level fentanyl traffickers.

"Fentanyl is a scourge," Harris said. "It poses intolerable risks of accidental overdosing because it is so much more powerful than morphine. Illegally manufactured fentanyl can be particularly and unpredictably potent, even tiny amounts of fentanyl mixed into other drugs such as cocaine or heroin may be fatal."

Harris said it's worth recognizing that a sentencing range for a fentanyl trafficker should be materially higher than the trafficker of another dangerous drug like heroin.

"Other dangerous drugs do not kill as frequently, accidentally, or as unpredictably as fentanyl, but the risks posed by those drugs should not be minimized even by comparison with fentanyl."

Get caught up on the fentanyl crisis here.


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