The drug doda is similar to marijuana in terms of the harm it causes society compared to harder drugs, a provincial court judge stated Wednesday in his sentencing decision for a case that is the first of its kind in Canada.
Speaking in Chilliwack, Judge Roy Dickey gave Tehal Singh Bath, 33, of Abbotsford and Mandeep Singh Dhaliwal, 32, of Mission each a conditional sentence (house arrest) of two years less a day.
The two were arrested in 2010 in a large poppy field off Keith Wilson Road in Chilliwack that was being cultivated to produce doda – an opiate made from poppies into a fine powder used primarily by the South Asian population and consumed in tea or hot water.
Bath and Dhaliwal previously pleaded guilty to possession for the purpose of trafficking and production of a controlled substance.
Dickey said the case is the first one in Canada in which someone has been convicted of the production of opium poppies.
"This is an unusual case ... in that it deals with a crop that is not common to this jurisdiction," he said.
Expert testimony at the sentencing hearing in June estimated there were 558,000 poppy plants on the field where Bath and Dhaliwal were arrested after police executed a search warrant.
The field was estimated to be just over six acres, and the street value of the crop was estimated to be $1.6 to $4 million.
But Dickey said he believed those numbers were exaggerated because they didn't take into account that some corn was also growing on the field and that there were areas where the poppies were growing sparsely.
Dickey said he believed the field was five acres in size, had 120,000 to 240,000 plants, and was worth approximately $120,000 to $240,000.
He referenced expert testimony that indicated doda is "about 10 per cent the potency of opium" and causes "significantly less" personal or societal harm than harder drugs such as heroin, cocaine, and meth.
Dickey said the sentence should be similar to what is given in marijuana convictions.
He said he also considered that neither accused had been the "operating mind" in the production of the poppies, both had been "deeply remorseful" of their actions, neither had a prior criminal record, and neither was at a risk to re-offend.
Bath is currently working as a blueberry farmer, while Dhaliwal delivers parcels and is hoping to go back to school.
"Other than his particular matter, they appear to be good members of the community," Dickey said.
Conditions of their sentence include that they each complete 240 hours of community service, follow a daily curfew of 10 p.m. to 6 a.m., and not have contact with each other except at a place of worship, while performing community service or in the presence of their lawyer.