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When he sentenced Stephen Parsley to a year in prison this week for possessing marijuana for the purpose of trafficking, there was an issue provincial court Judge James Walsh refused to touch.
Parsley, 32, is licenced by Health Canada to grow cannabis for health reasons. Once he was convicted - after having been caught with 48 pounds of marijuana - the Crown asked Walsh to consider revoking Parsley's licence.
"That's an issue for Health Canada," the judge said.
Parsley was charged after police executed a search warrant in May 2014 on a St. John's home where they believed he was living, as well as on 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.
Walsh acquitted Parsley of charges related to the other drugs, but said his guilt on the marijuana charge was "the only logical and reasonable conclusion based on the totality of the evidence."
“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 of Canada's newly relaxed cannabis laws.
It 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.
Between the time he was acquitted and that acquittal overturned, Parsley had applied for and was granted a licence to grow cannabis.
Though she declined to comment on any specific case, information provided to The Telegram by a Health Canada spokeswoman implies Parsley is likely to be stripped of his licence.
There are a number of criteria to be met before Health Canada grants an application for registration as a producer of cannabis for medical purposes. One of those is that the producer must not have been convicted of certain relevant offences in the past 10 years, she explained.
"If Health Canada confirms that a relevant conviction occurred, it can take regulatory measures up to and including refusing or revoking a registration," said Tammy Jarbeau.
A registration - which is valid for one year - may be revoked if there are grounds to believe it's necessary to do so to protect public health or safety. That includes preventing cannabis from being diverted to an illicit market, Jarbeau said.
"In 2014, Mr. Parsley was a participant in the black market in a big way," Walsh said while sentencing Parsley.
When Health Canada is informed of a potential violation, Jarbeau said, it reopens the file in question and investigates. Inspectors may also visit the registered grower's site.
"If non-compliance is found, Health Canada has a range of enforcement tools at its disposal, including refusing to register an individual, contacting the registrant and reminding them of their legal obligations, and cancelling their registration," Jarbeau said.
Registered producers are authorized to produce cannabis for their own medical purposes (or that of a designated individual), Jarbeau said. It's illegal for them to sell to anyone else.
Having earned credit for the time he has spent in custody awaiting his trial, Parsley has five months left to serve on his sentence. He does, however, have other matters before the court: while on bail awaiting sentencing, he was arrested again as part of what police say is one of the province's largest cocaine seizures, and charged alongside four other men with cocaine possession and cocaine possession for the purpose of trafficking.