Drug charges in Canada refer to various offences related to the possession, production, distribution, or trafficking of illegal or controlled substances. These charges are governed primarily by the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act (CDSA). Here, we’ll explore the different types of drug offences in Canada; what to do if you are under investigation or charged with drug charges; how to defend drug charges; and the relevant sentencing considerations should you be found guilty.

In the CDSA, drugs are classified in Schedules. These schedules categorize drugs based on their seriousness (danger to health, public interest in preventing their spread), and guide the provisions of the CDSA in determining sentencing ranges. In addition to drugs, the schedules also ban certain precursors for drug production.

The class of drugs (Schedule) affects the seriousness of the penalty.
Possession (section 4 of the CDSA):

  • Possession of illegal or controlled substances without a prescription or authorization is a criminal offence in Canada. This includes having drugs in your possession for personal use, as well as having drugs in your home, car, or anywhere else under your control. Recently, Parliament has made changes in Bill C-5 that direct the police and the Crown, in simple possession cases, to consider other options (such as drug treatment services or a warning) before laying charges.

Production (section 7 of the CDSA):

  • This refers to the manufacture, cultivation, or production of illegal drugs.

Trafficking (section 5 of the CDSA):

  • Trafficking refers to the sale, distribution, or transfer of drugs from one person to another. This can include selling drugs on the street, delivering drugs by courier, or mailing drugs through the postal service.

Importation/Exportation (section 6 of the CDSA):

  • Importing or exporting illegal drugs into or out of Canada is a very serious offence. This can include bringing drugs across the border or shipping them out of the country.

If you are under investigation or have been charged with a drug offence, there are two things that you need to do:

  • First, stay silent. Your right to remain silent is a protected Charter right. Every word you speak to the police can be used against you. In the interrogation room, remember that you and the police have opposite goals. You want to leave, and the police want to find enough evidence to lay charges against you. Keep this in mind and remain silent.
  • Next, seek the advice of a criminal defence lawyer as soon as possible. A criminal defence lawyer can advise you of your rights, help you understand the charges against you, and represent you in court. They can also negotiate with the prosecution to try to reduce the charges or have them dropped altogether.
The penalties for drug offences in Canada vary depending on the type and severity of the offence. Possession of drugs for personal use can result in a fine or imprisonment for up to six months. More serious offences, such as production or trafficking, can result in longer prison sentences, higher fines, and even the forfeiture of property.

If you have been charged with a drug offence, you have the right to a fair trial. A criminal defence lawyer can help you build a defence against the charges. This may involve challenging the evidence against you, arguing that the search and seizure of the drugs was illegal, or establishing that the drugs were not yours.

Some common trial defences for drug offences include:

  • Illegal search and seizure:
    • If the police searched your home, car, or person without a warrant or without a valid reason, the evidence against you may be inadmissible in court.
  • Mistaken identity:
    • If you were not in possession of the drugs, you may be able to argue that someone else was responsible.
  • Duress:
    • If you were forced to participate in the drug offence, you may be able to argue that you were acting under duress. Duress is the idea that you were under undue pressure or were forced to do something against your will.
  • Innocent possession:
    • When prosecutors must prove you committed a crime, they must prove that you both did something bad (actus reus) and that you did it with a guilty mind (mens rea). The defence of innocent possession negates the “guilty mind” aspect of the crime by stating that you did not know that you were possessing drugs, or that you were possessing them for a lawful purpose such as handing evidence over to the police.

If you are convicted of a drug offence, the sentence you receive will depend on the type and severity of the offence as well as your prior criminal record. In general, sentences for drug offences can range from a fine to a prison sentence of several years. When determining a sentence for a drug conviction, relevant factors include:

  • Crown election:
    • Many drug offences are classified as hybrid offences. Hybrid offences give the Crown prosecutors the option whether to prosecute the case summarily or via indictment. For summary convictions, the maximum sentence can be no more than two years less a day imprisonment, while indictments can carry longer sentences.
  • The type of drug in question:
    • The CDSA classifies drugs in schedules. Drugs in earlier schedules (Schedules I and II) are treated as more serious and more dangerous than those in later schedules. The CDSA has higher maximum penalties for drugs in earlier schedules.
  • If the offence is a repeat offence:
    • The CDSA has higher penalties for repeat offences. For example, for the offence of possession (section 4), when prosecuted by summary conviction comes with a maximum $1000 fine or six months imprisonment for the first offence and a maximum $2000 fine or one year imprisonment for subsequent offences.

How can our firm help?

Lakin Afolabi Law is a multilingual, highly-experienced firm that has successfully defended drug charges for over a decade. At our firm, we take a uniquely human approach to law. When we sit down to determine a strategy to help you, you play an active role in guiding and telling us about your wishes. We know the law and you know the facts. Together, we can help win your case. Call us today for a consultation.

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