Contrary to many popular beliefs and portrayals in the media, Canada is not a safe-haven for illegal drugs. The Crown takes the use of illegal drugs very seriously and possessing even small amounts of an illegal substance can land you in a heap of trouble.
Although drug offences are criminal in nature, the laws are not found in the general Criminal Code, but rather in the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act. The Act includes Schedules or ranks of drug categories. For instance, cocaine, heroin, and methamphetamines are classified as Schedule I drugs whereas, marijuana is a classified as a Schedule II drug. According to the act, “no person shall possess a substance included in Schedule I, II or III.” Depending on which Schedule a drug falls under, the possible punishment will vary.
Drug possession can be prosecuted as an indictable offence or on summary conviction. Summary convictions are typically only for minor violations while indictable offences are more serious and carry penalties that are more substantial. While it is ultimately up to the Crown to determine whether to prosecute drug possession as an indictable offence or on summary conviction, a lawyer may be able to help sway the Crown’s decision. It is important to note that some of the rights afforded in an indictable offence trial such as the right to a jury are not available for summary conviction.
The possible sentence for a Schedule I drug prosecuted as an indictable offence is up to seven years imprisonment, for Schedule II it is five years and for Schedule III, it is three years. For a first offence concerning a Schedule I, II, or III drug that is dealt with on summary conviction, the maximum punishment is a fine of $1,000 and/or up to six months in prison.
For offences concerning possession of marijuana, a Schedule II drug, there are extra complications. First, if you have medical authorization to possess marijuana, a lawyer can explain what documentation is required and whether you can succeed on this claim. Second, the law treats small amounts of marijuana differently than larger amounts. Where the amount in question is under thirty grams of cannabis or one gram of cannabis resin, the accused can only be punished on summary judgment carrying a maximum sentence of $1,000 and/or up to six months in prison. The weight of the marijuana is determined based on the entire weight of the substance including any other substances mixed in or unusable portions of the cannabis plant.
In addition to the sentence handed out by the court, a conviction for drug possession can make things like finding a job more difficult and can even impede a person’s ability to travel. Depending on your circumstances, a lawyer may be able to call into question the search or the drug testing procedure in order to get a finding of not guilty. An experienced lawyer may also be able to help get the accused into a drug treatment program thereby avoiding a criminal conviction.