What are the different types of drug offences?
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What are the different types of drug offences?
There are several types of drug offences. Even though they are under the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act (and not the Criminal Code), they are crimes that are taken seriously and can result in a criminal record and jail time.
Common drug crimes in Alberta include drug possession (also called “simple possession”), drug trafficking, possession of a drug for the purposes of trafficking, drug production, and importing and exporting drugs. I discuss the penalties for these crimes in a separate FAQ.
Although simple cannabis possession is legalized in Canada, there are similar offences under the Cannabis Act relating to the unlawful possession, cultivation, distribution, selling, and importing/exporting of cannabis. I have a separate FAQ about cannabis laws in Alberta.
What is drug possession?
Drug possession is the crime of knowingly possessing a drug that it is illegal to posses.
More specifically, it is a crime under section 4(1) of the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act to possess a Schedule I, II, or III drug (common examples are fentanyl, heroin, codeine, oxycodone, cocaine, methamphetamine, LSD, and psilocybin, to name a few).
The meaning of criminally “possessing” a drug includes not only having a drug on your person, but also “constructive” and “joint” possession, which means, for example, you can possess a drug that you have never even seen or that someone else also possesses.
I discuss criminal drug possession in depth in my FAQs: “What is Drug Possession?” and “Is it Drug Possession if I was Just a Passenger in the Car?”.
What is drug trafficking?
Drug trafficking is a crime under section 5(1) of the controlled drugs and substances act and is committed by doing any of the following with any substance in Schedules I to V:
- Selling, administering, giving, transferring, transporting, sending, or delivering it. • Selling an authorization to obtain it (such as a prescription for it).
- Offering to do any of the above (without lawful authority).
- This means that drug trafficking can be committed not only by buying or selling an illegal drug, but even by sharing an illegal drug for personal use, agreeing to buy an illegal drug, or offering to do any of those things.
For example, you can commit drug trafficking by offering to share your cocaine with someone for personal use, or by asking someone if they will sell you LSD.
Sometimes, undercover police will try to create a situation where a suspected drug dealer offers to sell them a drug, and then arrests them for drug trafficking if they do. This is considered providing an opportunity for the suspected drug dealer to commit a crime, and police are only allowed to do it if they meet the legal test: proving that they had a “reasonable suspicion” of the illegal activity before providing the opportunity. If the police cannot meet that legal test, then they entrapped the suspected drug dealer, and the court must “stay” the charge, which means that it is effectively dropped and can only be prosecuted within one year and with the consent of the Attorney General.
However, police can meet this test fairly easily, and suspected drug dealers are often charged and convicted of drug trafficking using this method.
I have a separate FAQ about drug trafficking offences.
What is possession of a drug for the purposes of trafficking?
Possessing a drug for the purposes of trafficking it is a crime under section 5(2) of the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act.
In order to be convicted of this crime, the crown prosecutor must prove (1) that you possessed the drug, and (2) that your possession of the drug was for the purposes of trafficking it.
Criminal drug possession has a wide meaning and is discussed above and in the separate FAQs: “What is Drug Possession?” and “Is it Drug Possession if I was Just a Passenger in the Car?”.
In order to prove that your possession of the drug was for the purposes of trafficking, the crown prosecutor will almost always rely on an expert witness who is qualified by the court to give expert opinion evidence on why there should be no reasonable doubt that your possession of the drug was for the purposes of trafficking, and not just for personal use or some other reason. The expert will usually make their opinions by relying on their experience to interpret evidence such as the following:
- The quantity and street monetary value of the drugs. For example, an expert witness might give the opinion that the accused possessed the three kilograms of carfentanil for trafficking, because no one would need that much for personal use, and to go to the trouble and cost of collecting that much for any other reason simply makes no sense. However, one tiny baggie with $20.00 of cocaine is probably possessed for personal use.
- Drug-sale materials, such as thousands of Ziplock baggies found with the drugs, weigh scales, and “cutting agents” (which are filler substances regularly mixed in with drugs by drug dealers to increase the supply of drugs and make more profit), very large quantities of cash near the drugs with no other reasonable explanation for having that cash, et cetera.
- Logbooks or some other “paper [or digital] trail” used to keep track of drug purchase orders, drug debts, drug sale locations, et cetera.
If you possessed the drug both for the purposes of trafficking and for some other purpose, like personal use, then you are still guilty of possession of a drug for the purposes of trafficking.
If the crown prosecutor can prove that you possessed the drug but not that the possession was for the purposes of trafficking, then you may still be found guilty of simple drug possession. Sentences for simple drug possession tend to be much lower than sentences for possession of a drug for the purposes of trafficking. I have a separate FAQ on drug offence sentencing.
What is drug production?
Drug production is a crime under section 7 of the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act that is committed by producing any substance in Schedules I to V (without lawful authorization).
For example, operating a “meth lab,” or making LSD at a lab in a university without lawful authorization is criminal drug production.
It is also an offence under section 7.1 of the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act to possess, produce, sell, import, or transport anything intending that it will be used to produce any substance in Schedules I to V without lawful authorization (for example, selling a substance used to produce fentanyl to a drug producer with the intention that it will be used to produce fentanyl).
Drug production is taken very seriously.
What is importing and exporting drugs?
Importing and exporting drugs is the crime under section 6(1) of the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act that is committed by importing into Canada or exporting out of Canada a substance under Schedules I to VI (without lawful authorization) (for example, bringing cocaine from Brazil to Canada).
It is also an offence under section 6(2) of the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act to possess a substance under Schedules I to VI for the purpose of importing or exporting it, although this offence is somewhat rarely charged.