Most fentanyl dealers sentenced in B.C. courts are low-level

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By Seth Forward and Nick Naylor

Since the first fentanyl trafficker was sentenced in B.C. in 2016, there have been some major change in sentencing trends.

The Voice compiled a data base of 195 sentencing decisions related to fentanyl crimes from public rulings of both B.C.’s Supreme and Provincial Courts.

While not all court decisions sentencing those involved in the drug trades are released, the Voice’s large sample size demonstrates the evolution of fentanyl trafficking in B.C., and how the courts are dealing with the toxic drug crisis.

Almost 60 per cent of those convicted were deemed by judges to be “low” level traffickers, typically those selling small amounts of fentanyl. Many low-level dealers sell to maintain their own habits, which is a mitigating factor for the sentencing judge.

Criminal lawyer Georges Plat said “a lot of people do get into trafficking fentanyl at the street level who are also users as a way to support their habit.”

Only seven of the 195 documented sentences were for “high” level dealers, indicating how difficult it has been to shut down major distributors for police and courts.

When fentanyl began to enter B.C. streets, it was often found in combination with heroin. Mines said that as fentanyl has further embedded itself into the province, it is now often found by itself.

Heroin has been upstaged

Vancouver-based criminal lawyer Michael Mines said that courts used to be dealing primarily with heroin cases.

“What I’ve seen is that it used to be heroin and slowly fentanyl was creeping into the heroin and now there’s no heroin out there. It’s all fentanyl,” Mines said.

Non-jail sentences have been increasing for low-level dealers and Mines said the circumstances of the offender play a big role in the judge’s decision.

“Marginalized and maybe victims of systemic problems, if they’re indigenous or even if not if they’ve come from a drug addicted family and they end up being users and traffickers, those I think are the people that were getting those kind of sentences,” he said.

The provincial court data says that just over 79 per cent of those convicted were incarcerated as a result of their sentencing.

According to criminal lawyer Plat, sentencing for fentanyl is the highest for any drug.

“Fentanyl is easily by a wide margin, the worst one,” he said.

Plat also suggests the strength of fentanyl compared to other street drugs plays into the amount of users that are also convicted of trafficking.

“I think that a lot of people do get into trafficking fentanyl at the street level who are also users as a way to support their habit,” said Plat. I think that’s correct that that you’re going to get more users who are also traffickers than with something like cocaine, where you could have somebody who’s just a functioning person who’s not an addict.”

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