Drug Schedules and Criminal Offences

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In an article posted last week, the basics of Canadian criminal law regarding drug offences were described. As that article detailed, criminal offences involving different types of drugs or controlled substances carry different potential sentences even for the simple crime of possession—some drugs come with higher sentencing thresholds than others.

Maximum allowable punishments for drug offences under Canadian law are determined by which "schedule" a drug or controlled substance is listed on; these schedules were themselves established by the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act and continue to be reviewed and adjusted periodically. Understanding the basic drug schedule system and the substances that appear on each schedule can help you understand your criminal defence case if you've been charged with a drug offence.

Drug Offences Involving Schedule I, II, III and IV Drugs/Controlled Substances

Note: these descriptions and lists are not complete. The full list of drugs included on each controlled substances schedule and the full text of the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act can be found here.

Offences involving Schedule I, II, III, and IV substances can be charged as either indictable offences or as summary conviction offences. Indictable offences carry harsher maximum sentences, and these maximum sentences are also more variable from schedule to schedule. Drug offences charged as summary conviction cases carry lower maximum penalties.

Those drugs and substances that have been determined to present the most serious public health risks are listed on Schedule I of the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act. Drug offences involving Schedule I substances also carry the potential for the highest sentences, especially if the accused has previously been convicted of a Schedule I drug offence. Drugs listed on Schedule I include opium and opiates, both natural and synthetic (heroin, morphine, codeine, oxycodone, and more), cocaine, other amphetamines, methamphetamine, and an array of pharmaceuticals that are illegal to possess without authorization.

Schedule II drug offences, in certain circumstances, are considered slightly less serious than Schedule I drug offences, and as such carry somewhat lower maximum punishments. Currently, Schedule II contains only cannabis (marijuana) and its derivatives, as well as certain synthetic cannabinoids. When the amount of a Schedule II substance doesn't exceed limits set out in Schedules VII or VIII, however, the lower sentencing limits for those schedules applies.

Schedule III drug offences carry even lower maximum punishments than Schedule II offences. As with Schedule I, Schedule III contains a number of pharmaceuticals that are legal to possess with a prescription or authorization, but that are criminal to possess without authorization. Also included on Schedule III are several common hallucinogenic drugs, including LSD (lysergic acid diethylamide), psilocin and psilocybin (the active hallucinogenic compounds in "shrooms" or "magic mushrooms"), mescaline, and DMT.

Criminal charges involving Schedule IV substances carry the lowest maximum sentences for indictable offences. Drugs on this schedule include barbiturates, benzodiazepines ("benzos"), anabolic steroids (including testosterone and synthetic testosterone), and others.

Other Drug Offences and Defending a Drug Offence Charge

No matter what type of offence you've been charged with or which schedule the substance(s) involved in your charge are listed on, you are entitled to speak to a criminal defence lawyer who can explain the law and help you decide how best to proceed with your defence. If you have further questions regarding a drug offence you have been charged with, please contact Calgary criminal defence lawyer Susan Karpa today.

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