News / Vancouver

B.C. judge gives absolute discharge for man caught growing 414 pot plants

A judge has given an absolute discharge to a man charged with trafficking marijuna after police raided his Lions Bay home and found 414 marijuana plants, although almost half most were seedlings.

Michael Santos, an audio engineer with no criminal record, pleaded guilty to possessing about three kilograms of marijuana for trafficking.

The police raid took place on Feb. 28, 2013, when a battering ram was used to break the front door when no one immediately answered at Santos' rental home, where he lived with his wife and two children.

The court was told that Santos, 40, grew the pot as medical marijuana for himself and gave the rest away to others in need of medical marijuana.

Provincial Court Judge Joanne Challenger noted that Santos, at the time, had not sought a medical exemption to grow pot and use it to treat his condition, which he asked the judge not to be made public, so the judge sealed his letter that explained his expectation to develop a life-threatening genetic disease, given his family history.

"Given what Mr. Santos knows about the disease he is predisposed to and the effect it has had on his family, I accept that his medical use was and is sincere," the judge said in a recent written judgment. "Even if the only benefit the use of marijuana actually provides is hope, the emotional and, in turn, physical benefits could well be medically significant."

Santos told the court that he did not seek a medical exemption to grow pot because the application process was "cumbersome" and he was concerned about the consequences of admitting his pot use to the government, given the uncertain future of the exemption program.

After he was busted, Santos obtained a medical exemption to possess and grow marijuana in August 2013, which remains valid, the judge noted.

Crown counsel John Whyte had asked the judge to impose a one-year conditional sentence, to be served in the community.

But the judge granted Santos' request for an absolute discharge, noting Santos was an otherwise law-abiding, respected member of the community and a good family man, so his crime was one of very low moral culpability, akin to violating a regulation.

"His conduct was not dangerous or antisocial and recent polls suggest that a majority of Canadians do not believe such conduct should be the subject of criminal sanctions," the judge said.

The judge added that law makers should seriously consider amending or repealing Canada's marijuana laws, to bring them in line with today's values.

"When it becomes common for persons of good character to willingly and knowingly conduct themselves in violation of a law, which is widely seen to be unwarranted or unjust or unfair, this should cause those who enact our laws and who are tasked with enforcing or upholding the law to give serious consideration to the repeal or amendment of that law to bring it into accord with modern social values," Challenger said.