Drug charges are serious, and a complex area of law. Some people think that possessing a small amount of an illegal substance for recreational use is not a big deal, or that they are unlikely to get in trouble. This is not the case.
Drug offences are covered by the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act (CDSA), which lists illegal substances which are completely banned in Canada. After the enactment of Bill C-10, many drug offences now have mandatory minimum sentences.
Any conviction for a drug offence can have serious, long-term consequences. Aside from the potential for prison time, a criminal record for a drug offence can impact future employment, freedom to travel and social stigma. This is also a complex area of law, involving informants, search warrants, and expert analysis and testimony. That is why it is important to have experienced legal representation if you are charged with a drug offence of any kind.
Are all drug charges the same?
Penalties for drug charges vary depending on a number of factors including the kind of drug involved, the level and nature of the offence, and the nature of the offender’s involvement.
Illegal substances covered by the CDSA fall under four “schedules”, which determine how different drugs are controlled. Common Schedule I drugs include opiates, cocaine, methamphetamine, and amphetamines. Cannabis is a Schedule II drug.
What are the levels of drug-related offences?
Courts differentiate between levels of drug offences based on their seriousness.
Simple possession refers to possession of a substance on Schedule I, II or III. It can be proven if the defendant had knowledge and control of the drug. If you are found in possession of a small amount of a drug and this is a first-time offence, you may qualify for the Alternative Measures Program (AMP). If you successfully complete AMP, usually involving community service hours or drug treatment counselling, the charges will be withdrawn and you will not receive a criminal record. If you are found guilty, the court may proceed by summary or indictment. Maximum penalties for summary offences are less severe than indictable offences. It is possible to be given a fine rather than prison time for a summary offence.
Possession for purposes of trafficking is when someone possesses a drug with the intention of making the drug available to others. You do not have to be planning to sell the drugs to be found guilty of possession for purposes of trafficking. Individuals have been found guilty of this offence in cases where a husband was transporting drugs to his wife; where the accused hid a dealer’s drugs from the police in their apartment; and where the accused lent money to someone else to buy and sell drugs, expecting a share of the profit. This offence requires proof that the accused had knowledge of the drugs or was willfully blind to their presence.
Trafficking is the delivery of drugs from one person to another. Again, this does not have to be done to make money. Cases where individuals have been convicted of trafficking include giving drugs to a friend for safe keeping; offering to sell drugs to a person who will take the offer as genuine, even if there is not intention to deliver the drugs; selling a substance as a drug that is not a drug; and agreeing to buy drugs from someone for the purpose of resale. Maximum penalties for both trafficking and possession for purposes of trafficking include prison time, whether the court proceeds by summary or indictment.
Production is the manufacture and/or cultivation of a controlled substance on Schedules I – IV. While the other offences listed have maximum penalties, production has mandatory minimum sentences. This means that if found guilty, the judge is legally required to place your sentence within a specific range. The mandatory minimum can be increased by aggravating factors such as if the production constituted a security, health or safety risk to persons under 18 or a public safety hazard in a residential area.
How does sentencing for drug offences happen?
Different drug offences have different sentencing guidelines depending on the schedule that the substance falls under and the type of offence. Simple possession, possession for the purpose of trafficking and trafficking have maximum penalties, while production has mandatory minimum sentences. Penalties can range from fines to prison time, and even imprisonment for life.
When sentencing, courts will also take into consideration other details about the accused, their role in the offense and the nature of the offense. For example, they will consider the defendant’s prior record, their level in a drug trafficking organization and the number of transactions they were involved in. Courts are also often more sympathetic if a defendant is dealing with an addiction.
Sentencing may also be affected by whether the offence was planned in detail in advance, or was an impulse, how much of a substance was seized and whether more than one type of drug was involved.
What do I do if I am charged with a drug offense?
When someone is arrested on a drug charge, they will be taken to the police station for processing. They will either be held in custody or be released. In either case, it is important to contact an experienced criminal lawyer right away.
If the defendant is released from custody after their arrest, they will be given a notice of their next court date.
While an offence like simple possession of a small amount of a drug can have a less serious penalty of a fine, it is important to remember that all drug convictions can have long term consequences. Do not rely on friends and family for advice — always consult an experienced criminal lawyer for guidance and representation.
How are drug charges prosecuted in Canada?
In Canada, most criminal offences are prosecuted by the Crown Attorney’s Office. However, drug-related offences are prosecuted by the Public Prosecution Service of Canada. That means that drug prosecutors are specialized, experienced and knowledgeable in prosecuting drug-related offences.
To convict someone of a drug-related offence, the Crown must prove beyond reasonable doubt that
- The accused was in possession of the prohibited drug
- The accused knew the drug the possessed was prohibited
- They intended to possess the prohibited drug
- The drug is actually prohibited under the CDSA
How can Kolinsky Law help?
The best way to beat a drug-related charge is to work with a criminal defense lawyer who is experienced in drug-related offences. The criminal lawyers at Kolinsky Law are experts in this area of law and are committed to getting the best possible outcomes for their clients. We will help you navigate the process from arrest through trial. Don’t face the life changing event of a drug-related charge alone.
Let us Help
Being charged with a criminal offence is a life-changing event but you don’t have to face this stressful situation alone. Choosing a criminal lawyer that best represents your rights is important both to ease your fears and to advise and help you through the legal process. At Kolinsky Law, our reputation, years in practice, and expertise help you find the best outcome possible no matter your situation.
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