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New cannabis laws don’t mean trafficking isn’t still a serious crime, says judge

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Stephen Parsley sentenced to a year in jail for possessing 48 pounds of marijuana for the purpose of trafficking

ST. JOHN'S, N.L. —

The laws regarding marijuana possession have indeed relaxed - but not when it comes to being caught with 48 pounds of it for the purpose of trafficking, a St. John’s judge said Monday.
Judge James Walsh sentenced 32-year-old Stephen Parsley to a year in prison for possessing marijuana for the purpose of trafficking and breaching a court order.

Walsh said he disagreed with the position of one of his peers in the province’s Supreme Court, who had quoted Bob Dylan’s “The Times They Are A Changin’“ when he gave a more lenient sentence in a similar case earlier this year.

“While the times they are a changing, they have not done so in any significant way with the criminal distribution of large quantities of marijuana,” Walsh said.

Parsley was charged after police executed a search warrant in May 2014 on a home where they believed he was living, as well as two backyard sheds. They found drugs in plastic bags and duffel bags in one shed, including cocaine and ecstasy on the seat of a side-by-side utility terrain vehicle. Parsley’s fingerprints were recovered from two vacuum-sealed bags of marijuana, with a total weight of 47.8 pounds.

“While the times they are a changing, they have not done so in any significant way with the criminal distribution of large quantities of marijuana,” — Judge James Walsh

Walsh acquitted Parsley of charges related to the other drugs, accusing the lead investigator in the case of having tunnel vision when it came to Parsley’s guilt and failing to consider other suspects, such as the owner of the UTV.

“The police actions directly led to Mr. Parsley’s acquittal on the cocaine and MDMA (ecstasy) charges,” Walsh said. “However, his guilt on the remaining marijuana charge was the only logical and reasonable conclusion based on the totality of the evidence.”

This was Parsley’s second verdict on the same charges; he had been acquitted in 2017 by a different judge, who had ruled police did not have enough grounds to get a search warrant. That acquittal was overturned upon appeal by the Crown.

While Parsley was awaiting sentencing - and after a pre-sentence report had been presented to the court, deeming him remorseful, rehabilitating and at a low risk to reoffend - he was arrested again as part of what police say is one of the province’s largest cocaine seizures. He and four other men were each charged with cocaine possession and cocaine possession for the purpose of trafficking. Those charges are making their way through the court.

Judge James Walsh.
Judge James Walsh.

“Unfortunately for Mr. Parsley, much of the goodwill outlined in the (report) has been brought into question, if not undone, by his new charges,” the judge commented, noting the report had also stated Parsley was motivated by earning money in order to lead a lavish lifestyle.

The Crown wanted a 22-month jail term for Parsley, while his defence lawyer had argued for three months. Walsh sentenced Parsley to a year, saying the case amounted to “serious criminal misconduct.” With enhanced credit for time he has spent in custody, Parsley has five months left to serve.

The Crown had also requested Walsh revoke Parsley’s Health Canada licence to grow cannabis for health purposes, which he had acquired during the time period between his original acquittal and his new trial.

Walsh said that was an issue for the federal government.

Twitter: @tara_bradbury


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