Drug offences can be some of the most serious types of charges and can have a major impact on your current and future employment, ability to travel, and other areas of your life.
In Canada, there are two key pieces of legislation that govern drugs. The Controlled Drugs and Substances Act (CDSA) and the Cannabis Act.
The CDSA is the key legislation that defines and governs crimes relating to drugs – or controlled substances, as they are called. It covers a broad range of controlled substances, which range from cocaine, codeine, heroin, oxycodone, and fentanyl, among many others. The CDSA also defines a comprehensive spectrum of offences including, but not limited to, possession, production, trafficking, and exporting or importing. The CDSA prescribes minimum penalties in many cases.
In contrast, the Cannabis Act governs all areas relating to the use and regulation of cannabis, including marijuana. This piece of legislation came into force in late 2018, as part of the legalization of marijuana in Canada. It prescribes allowable amounts, legal storage, and different legal forms of cannabis, among other things.
Overall, drug-related crimes are taken very seriously in Canada. The legalization of marijuana in this country has not changed this fact. If you are convicted of a drug-related offence, you are likely to attract significant and ongoing penalties and repercussions, including potentially substantial jail time. There may also be long-term restrictions on travel, and a negative impact on future employment.
If you have been charged under the CDSA or the Cannabis Act, it is vital for you to get prompt legal assistance. I have significant experience in this area of the law and can help you with all aspects of your charge – from your arrest, right up to your trial.
Investigations of Drug Offences
Drug-related offences fall into various categories, but the main ones are focused on:
- Possession for the purposes of trafficking.
- Importing or exporting.
There are also specific drug offences relating to cultivating marijuana (grow-ops) or producing other substances, such as cocaine, heroin and fentanyl.
The nature and scope of an investigation into a drug-related crime will vary according to the particular charge and drug. However, in many larger drug investigations, the police will receive a tip from the public which will then launch months’ long investigations into alleged drug schemes. This often involves dozens of police officers, hours upon hours of surveillance, and ultimately ends in search warrants, items seized, and arrests made.
In all cases, there are restrictions on police and investigators based on the rights protected and afforded to Canadians by the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. I am especially experienced in identifying and arguing Charter violations and can explore all potential defences for you as they relate to drug charges.
It is also my job to ensure that at every stage of the investigation, the police were adhering to the proper protocol. Oftentimes the police overstep boundaries which then taints their investigative process and opens additional areas of possible defence.
No matter what type or amount of drug involved, a conviction is certainly not guaranteed. There are many evidentiary hurdles for the crown. The crown is obliged to prove that you have committed the crime beyond a reasonable doubt, and it must also be evident that your legal, constitutional, and procedural rights have been adhered to. This includes during the arrest, investigation and prosecution stages.
Possession under the CDSA
The CDSA provides comprehensive schedules of drugs that are strictly prohibited by all persons in Canada, unless, in certain circumstances, they are prescribed by a doctor.
Possession under the CDSA is broader than you may think. It includes having drugs in your personal possession, but it also includes:
- Knowing drugs are in the actual possession or custody of someone else.
- Having drugs in any place, whether or not that place belongs or is occupied by you, for your use or benefit or for that of another person.
It is surprising to many people that it is not always necessary to physically possess drugs in order to be charged. The crime of drug possession can be committed through what is known as constructive possession or joint possession. Constructive possession is where you may not have drugs with you or on you, but where you are considered to exert control over drugs in some manner. Joint possession is where other people have physical possession and control over drugs with your knowledge and consent.
Oftentimes with possession charges, a person is found to have a small amount of drugs on them, such that they couldn’t be charged with a more serious drug offence.
It is important with possession charges to speak with an experienced criminal lawyer right away, so that the evidence against you is thoroughly reviewed and you have an understanding of any hurdles the crown may have in proving their case against you. There may also be ways to mitigate any potential sentence or even have the charges withdrawn, for example by entering counselling or drug-treatment programs. Depending on the exact circumstances of your case, there may be more room for negotiation with the crown.
Possession under the Cannabis Act
Contrary to what many people might think, there has not been an outright legalization of cannabis in Canada. Cannabis is only legal for individual users if it falls within a prescribed set of rules. Possession of cannabis is prohibited if:
- You are 18 years or older, in a public place, with cannabis the total amount of which is equivalent to more than 30 g of dried cannabis.
- You are 18 years or older and possess any cannabis that you know is illicit cannabis.
- You are a young person and possess cannabis, the total amount of which is equivalent to more than 5 g of dried cannabis.
- You are an individual who possesses, in a public place, one or more cannabis plans that are budding or flowering.
- You are an individual who possesses more than four cannabis plants that are not budding or flowering.
Because the legalization of cannabis is relatively new, you might not even be aware of the allowable legal limits. This may unfortunately result in an inadvertent drug possession charge against you.
As with possession charges under the CDSA, possession charges under the Cannabis Act can be serious. If convicted, you may face a lengthy sentence. It is important to retain the services of an experienced criminal defence lawyer like myself to figure out the best possible way of dealing with your charge.
I will review the evidence the crown has against you, negotiate on your behalf, and do my best to ensure your matters do not have a permanent impact on your future.
Trafficking offences are aimed at preventing drugs from being transported or sold and distributed to others. These types of offences are often subject to mandatory minimum sentences when convicted. Depending on the types of drugs trafficked, these charges can attract very lengthy periods of incarceration.
The CSDA defines drug trafficking broadly. It includes selling, administering, giving, transferring, transporting, sending, or delivering drugs – or offering to do so. It also includes selling or offering to sell an authorization to obtain drugs.
Trafficking offences can arise in a number of different ways. For example, you may find yourself charged with trafficking an illegal drug after you unintentionally tried to sell cocaine on the street to an undercover police officer. This will involve relatively straightforward evidence in the form of your testimony and that of the officer. The court will have to decide whether the elements of the offence have been established.
In contrast, if you are charged with other drug-production or trafficking offences, you may have been arrested after the police obtained a search warrant and searched your home. This likely would have occurred after an extensive, behind-the-scenes investigation by police, of which you were unaware.
Possession of Drugs for the Purpose of Trafficking
If you have been found in possession of drugs, then a related issue arises as to whether the drugs were for your personal use, or whether you intended to sell them to others for a profit. This usually depends on the quantity of drugs found in your possession.
If the quantity of drugs found in your possession is large enough, you may be charged with possession for the purpose of trafficking. This is a very serious offence and can result in significant periods of incarceration.
As with trafficking drugs, the charges may arise from a number of different scenarios, including a lengthy police investigation.
It is important at the charge or even pre-charge stage to retain my services, so that I can effectively defend you from the beginning. Drug trafficking charges are generally very complex and involve situations where the police have used specialized knowledge to investigate you.
With these types of charges, I often succeed in trials by challenging search warrants, arguing Charter breaches, and by using my skills in cross-examination to bring enough reasonable doubt to find my clients not guilty.
Importation or Exportation of Drugs
One of the most serious types of drug offences is the importing or exporting of drugs into or out of Canada. If convicted of this type of drug offence, you may face a lengthy period of incarceration in a federal penitentiary.
This crime is not limited to actually carrying of drugs into the country at the border (such as in luggage or bodypacks); it also covers attempts to transport drugs in vehicles over land, air or water, or attempts to import by way of mail or courier.
Where the drugs originate in another country, the international nature of the crime invokes the participation of not just the federal crown, but also the Canadian Border Services Agency (CBSA). This adds another level of complexity.
Importing or exporting charges, or a possession for the purpose of exporting charge, will almost always involve a large and lengthy police investigation. If you are facing these types of charges, it will always be in your best interest to retain an experienced criminal lawyer to help you in every stage and aspect of your offences; from obtaining bail, reviewing your disclosure, negotiating with the crown, and potentially running a trial.
The stakes are very high with these types of charges, and they can have a massive impact on your future.
Potential Penalties – Drug Offences
If you are convicted of a crime involving drugs, the sentence can be serious. The outcome will depend on the illegal conduct, the type of drug involved, the presence of aggravating factors, and certain CDSA and Cannabis Act specified minimum and maximum penalties.
Mandatory minimum penalties apply if you are convicted of the more serious drug-related offences such as possession, trafficking, possession for the purpose of trafficking, importing and exporting, or production.
The penalties range on a spectrum: on the more significant end you can face a maximum sentence of life in jail if found guilty of trafficking in certain hard drugs. On the other hand, the maximum penalty for producing some other types drugs is 14 years imprisonment. For less serious crimes, you might be facing probation or a fine.
Note that for certain crimes, the presence of aggravating factors will serve to increase the sentence. These include:
- Selling to youth or near school grounds.
- Associating with a criminal organization.
- Previous drug-related convictions.
- The threats or use of violence or of weapons.
In certain circumstances, if you have been charged with a drug crime but struggle with drug addiction yourself, the CDSA a court to delay your sentencing while you either participate in a drug treatment court program or else attend a treatment program approved by the province under the supervision of the court. If you successfully complete the treatment program, the court is at liberty to choose not to impose the mandatory minimum penalty on you if it feels a lesser sentence is appropriate.
Call me, Susan Karpa, DRUG OFFENCE lawyer.
Defending a drug-related charge is a complex task. If you have been charged with this kind of offence, I can help you review the circumstances of your arrest, the evidence in your matter, and assess the likelihood of a conviction at trial. With my extensive legal experience in this area, I can also mount a thorough and aggressive legal defence for you.
Because of the high stakes of drug-related charges, it is important to get my prompt assistance so that I can advocate on your behalf and help navigate the next steps.
It is my job to help you understand what your options are, and how I can fight the charges for you.