Expert testimony at a sentencing hearing on Thursday for Fraser Valley men guilty of drug charges in relation to Canada's largest opium poppy field suggests the crop could have produced millions of dollars worth of the opiate doda.
Abbotsford resident Tehal Singh Bath and Mandeep Singh Dhaliwal of Mission, pleaded guilty in Chilliwack provincial court on Monday to charges of production of a controlled substance and possession for the purpose of trafficking in connection to a sevenacre opium poppy field busted in Greendale on Aug. 23, 2010.
Crown and police believe the opium plants were to be used to manufacture an opiate called doda, a drug primarily used within the South Asian community.
Husks of the opium poppy pod are ground into a powder that is combined with tea or hot water to provide a quick high and sense of well-being.
Crown counsel Brad Smith said he was not aware of any other case involving an opium poppy grow and that police are estimating there were close to 560,000 plants that could have resulted in "multi-millions" worth of doda at the street level.
As there are few legal precedents to draw upon, Smith called expert police witness to testify and provide the judge with information on the production, crop yield, distribution and street value of doda.
Acting Det. Mark Haywood, of the Peel Regional Police major drug unit in Ontario, said that the street value of doda has skyrocketed due to a scarcity of the drug due to recent crackdowns on Arizona opium poppy husk producers and suppliers by U.S. authorities and the Canadian Border Services Agency.
The price of doda has doubled since the summer of 2010 when a kilogram of the flour-like substance was worth $1,500.
Currently, a kilogram of doda is fetching more than $3,000 or $3 per gram, said Haywood.
A box of medium, large, or jumbo dried poppy pods, ground up to produce doda, currently runs from $3,500 to $5,000.
Using data from a police "controlled grind" of poppy husks and assuming that the Chilliwack opium plants would have produced two pods each, Crown estimated the poppy grow could have produced close to 5,000 kilograms of doda.
However, defence lawyer Ian Donaldson argued that the estimates around the production, yield and street value were speculative.
The RCMP originally estimated that the field contained 50,000 plants, he said.
Outside court, Donaldson suggested the RCMP wouldn't have been able to accurately predict the total yield of the seven-acre field from the small sample grid counts they undertook.
The collateral harm to larger society caused by doda addicts is less apparent than with other illegal drugs, said Donaldson.
"There doesn't seem to be the spin-off crime of the sort encountered with cocaine, heroin or methamphetamine users," he said.
"I'm not aware of any case in B.C. of a doda user committing a crime to feed his or her habit," said Donaldson.
He suggested his clients were simply "labourers" taking care of the crop for the man who leased the land and who hasn't been caught or charged by the RCMP .
A further date for sentencing submissions will be fixed on June 19.
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