Understanding Drug Possession, Production and Trafficking Laws

The laws governing drug use in Canada including possession, trafficking and production can be complex and the consequences of being convicted of an offence can be dire. The federally regulated Controlled Drugs and Substances Act (CDSA) contains a myriad of regulations dealing with many different offences.

Illegal drug use is an evolving phenomenon. In Alberta, as well as across Canada, the manufacture and wide distribution of potentially dangerous drugs such as fentanyl has become an increasing public health concern.

There can also be questions about cannabis. Recently, Calgary police arrested two men and seized $13 million worth of cannabis, including roughly 2,636 kilograms of dried cannabis and cannabis plants. Yes, cannabis is legal in Canada but there are still laws that govern its production, possession, sale and use. Despite legalization, there are those who continue to grow cannabis to sell on the black market.

With so much at stake, it only makes sense to retain a criminal defence lawyer with the expertise to effectively defend you when you have been charged with a drug offence.

Drug Possession Laws and What They Mean

Possession of any drug can be easily misunderstood. For example, did you know that you don’t actually have to be in physical possession of a drug to be charged? If it can be proven that you were aware of the drug and had some degree of control over them you could find yourself in court. There are laws for simple possession and possession for the purpose of trafficking with penalties that could include life in prison for serious offenders. Drug offences are covered under the CDSA as opposed to the Criminal Code.

To begin, the type of drug and the amount you possess figure prominently in how your case will proceed. The CDSA lists every illegal drug is Canada, dividing drugs into five schedules:

Schedule I drugs are considered “hard drugs,” and include heroin, cocaine, opium as well as numerous pharmaceutical grade drugs such as oxycodone.
Schedule II drugs are those in the Cannabis family or its derivatives and synthetic preparations, such as hashish.
Schedule III drugs include amphetamines, including methamphetamine and LSD.
Schedule IV includes pharmaceuticals such as diazepam, benzodiazepine and steroids.
Schedule V lists no drugs at this time.

The most severe penalties are reserved for offences in the first three categories.

There are three types of drug possession charges. Personal possession is the most common charge and means you had physical control of a drug you knew was illegal in nature. You can be found with the drug in your pants pocket or in your car or home.

If you have a measure of control over a drug and you put it in someone’s possession this would be considered constructive possession. For example, you can face charges if you were found with a key to a locker that contained illegal drugs.

Joint possession covers instances where two or more people have some measure of control over an illegal substance. It doesn’t matter where the drugs are found if you knew they were there.

Ultimately, your fate in court will depend on the Crown prosecutor’s ability to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the drug was knowingly under your control and you were aware it was illegal.

Drug Trafficking Laws

Drug trafficking simply means distributing the substance. You don’t necessarily have to sell it to be charged. Under the CDSA, trafficking means to sell, administer, give, transfer, transport, send or deliver the substance. You can also face charges if you import an unlawfully controlled substance.

Bear in mind you don’t have to attempt to sell or distribute a drug to face a trafficking offence. If it is determined you have control over a quantity of drugs believed to be for more than personal consumption, you can be charged with possession for the purpose of trafficking.

The amount of the drug being trafficked will play a big part in determining a penalty. Section 6 of the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act increases the punishment to those found with large quantities of drugs. If more than a kilogram of a Schedule I substance is seized during your arrest, for instance, you can be convicted of an indictable offence and face imprisonment for life. If the substance is included in Schedule III or V, you could be imprisoned for up to 10 years.

It should also be noted that you can be charged with trafficking in prescription drugs if you are not licensed to do so.

The justice system deals with drug trafficking harshly. In sentencing one man to eight years in prison for distributing fentanyl, a judge said he took “into account that the principles of deterrence and denunciation are important when sentencing drug traffickers.”

“It is clear that fentanyl is a highly dangerous drug. Generally speaking, offenders – even first offenders – who traffic significant amounts of fentanyl should expect to receive significant penitentiary sentences,” the judgment reads. “This is particularly so when the offender is motivated primarily for profit.”

Illegal Drug Production

When police searched a suspected fentanyl 'super lab' along with businesses and homes in Calgary and Edmonton, they seized an estimated $300 million worth of drugs. Drug labs are nothing new and police across Canada continue to target those who illegally produce narcotics.

Simply stated, if you are making illegal drugs, you can be charged. According to the CDSA, production can include manufacturing, synthesizing or using any means of altering the chemical or physical properties of the substance. It can also include cultivating, propagating or harvesting the substance or any living thing from which the substance may be extracted or otherwise obtained. Essentially, it is a criminal offence to produce a substance included in Schedule I, II, III or IV.

It is also illegal to possess, produce, sell or import anything that can be used to make illegal drugs.
The Cannabis Act does allow Canadians 19 years of age or older to grow up to four plants per residence but only for personal use., And the plants must come from licensed seeds or seedlings. It should be noted that provinces are allowed to set their own cannabis rules.

Don’t Take a Chance With Your Future

Though defending drug offences can be complex, I can offer you my experience as one of Calgary's most dedicated drug defence lawyers who knows how to fight these types of charges. Contact my office today for a free initial consultation.