The Ontario Court of Appeal has rebuked a Brampton trial judge for suggesting it would be a form of “insanity” to jail a man for running a large-scale marijuana grow operation.

By choosing instead to subject Zeyu Song to 12 months of house arrest, Justice Elliott Allen fashioned a sentence “based on his personal views of national drug policy” and engaged in an unhelpful “personal diatribe” about prison’s ineffectiveness in curbing the drug trade.

Despite a line of cases from the appeal court instructing judges that conditional sentences in these cases should be rare, Allen bypassed the rulings, describing them as essentially “utterances,” and suggesting it is largely up to local judges to develop their own marijuana sentencing practices.

In doing so, he completely upended the notion that appeal courts, in many instances, should defer to a trial judge’s conclusions, an appeal panel ruled yesterday.

“The principle of deference is not a licence for the sentencing judge to defy settled jurisprudence, ignore the principles of the Criminal Code, or use his or her dais as a political podium,” Justices Michael Moldaver, Janet Simmons and Robert Blair said in a decision collectively authored by “the court.”

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