Recreational cannabis may have been legal in Canada for more than four years, but black market operators are still turning up in the court system.
A Port Coquitlam man who worked as a delivery driver for an illegal online cannabis store received two years of probation after pleading guilty in North Vancouver Provincial Court Thursday to possession for the purpose of selling under the Cannabis Act.
Saman Farrokhmanesh was pulled over by West Vancouver police in May 2022 after they suspected him of impaired driving, according to Crown prosecutor Lisa Dumbrell.
He wasn’t impaired but, unprompted, Farrokhmanesh voluntarily showed police three plastic tubes containing fresh joints, which the officers noted didn’t appear to be sealed or have government stamps on them.
They also noticed the vehicle’s trunk was being held closed by a bungee cord. Farrokhmanesh attempted to show police that his trunk only contained toolboxes and equipment for cement mixing, but then the bungee snapped and the truck flung open, releasing a strong odour of cannabis, Dumbrell said.
A search by the officers found an estimated 994 grams of cannabis in pre-rolled joints and various sizes of small packages. Farrokhmanesh was arrested but he insisted the cannabis was legal, Dumbrell told the court.
At the time, he was working for a Vancouver-based online retailer called Stoni. Neither Stoni nor Farrokhmanesh were licensed to sell cannabis, Dumbrell said. Based on the prices the company advertises on their website, the product investigators seized would have been valued at about $11,300, the court heard.
Dumbrell conceded that Farrokhmanesh was just a driver for a larger organization, but stressed that Canada’s legalized cannabis regime is full of “very cumbersome but frankly necessary” rules to protect consumers from potentially unsafe cannabis, keep the substance away from kids and to discourage the black market.
“Respectfully, we need to support the people who are doing the right thing and need to send a fairly strong message to those who aren’t,” she said.
Farrokhmanesh’s lawyer Jack Lloyd, who is also a prominent cannabis activist, said his client was just the man at the wheel, earning minimum wage.
“He’s clearly a delivery driver for some complex criminal organization that is doing this. His moral culpability is significantly lower, obviously, than the guy that’s running this business,” he said. “My guy is in a broken-down Toyota delivering stuff when he gets told to deliver it.”
Lloyd added his client was “frustratingly co-operative” with police, pleaded guilty early in the court process and is today both remorseful and embarrassed by the charges. He continues to work as a delivery driver, albeit for a legal online retailer, and is trying to move on with his life and support his young family, Lloyd said.
Both the Crown and defence agreed Farrokhmanesh should face two years of probation plus a $2,000 fine and 50 hours of community service.
Judge Robert Hamilton acknowledged that there haven’t been many other sentencings in cases with similar circumstances for him to look to for guidance, but he agreed the probation and fine would be a fitting sentence.
According to the Public Prosecution of Canada’s latest annual report, there were 4,520 cannabis related charges in Canada the 2020-2021 fiscal year, down from 18,985 in 2017-2018.