Pubdate: Tue, 17 Mar 2009
Source: Simcoe Reformer, The (CN ON)
Copyright: 2009 Sun Media
Author: Walter Drescher
Note: Walter Drescher is a partner at the law firm of Cobb & Jones LLP


The federal Controlled Drugs and Substances Act lists all illegal 
drugs, including marijuana, heroin, cocaine, amphetamines, and 
hashish (there are many more).

It is illegal to knowingly have any of these drugs in your possession 
at any time, even if they do not belong to you. Unless, you are the 
holder of a valid "medicinal marijuana" certificate.

Under the law, the Crown prosecutor must prove certain things before 
you can be found guilty of possession. First, the Crown prosecutor 
must prove that you had physical custody of the drug, which means 
that the drug was somewhere on your body, or in a place that you 
control. For example, your home or your car are usual places that you 
control. Second, the Crown prosecutor must prove that you knew the 
substance was an illegal drug.

Possession is a hybrid offence, which means that the Crown prosecutor 
will decide whether to treat your case less seriously, as a summary 
conviction offence, or more seriously, as an indictable offence. 
Although the Crown prosecutor's decision will depend on many factors, 
generally, if it is the first time you have been charged with 
possession and you only had a small quantity of drugs, your case will 
be treated as a summary conviction offence.

The Crown prosecutor's choice will also affect the penalties that can 
be imposed if you are found guilty. For the summary conviction 
procedure, the maximum penalty for drug possession is a fine of 
$1,000 and six months in prison if it is your first offence. If it is 
not your first offence, the maximum penalty is a $2,000 fine and one 
year in prison.

However, the penalties usually given by the court for first time 
offenders possessing "soft drugs" such as marijuana, range from a 
fine between $250 and $500 and probation.

For more serious drugs, such as cocaine or heroin, the crown may seek 
a jail sentence even for first time offenders. If the Crown 
prosecutor proceeds by indictment, the maximum penalty is seven years 
in prison.

Trafficking (or possession for the purpose) means that you were in 
possession of an illegal drug, and that you offered it, sold it, or 
passed it on to someone else. It is a serious offence under the 
Controlled Drugs and Substances Act, with more severe penalties than 
possession of a narcotic. Possession for the purpose of trafficking 
is a separate offence as well.

Although it is not always clear whether someone is in possession for 
the purpose of trafficking, the police often rely on a number of 
surrounding circumstances to lay such a charge. For example, a person 
might be charged with possession for the purpose of trafficking if 
they have a large quantity of drugs in their possession, or if they 
are caught with several small packages of drugs prepared for 
individual sale and an accompanying list of names (debt list). In the 
most obvious situation, if a person is caught actually selling drugs 
or trying to sell drugs, they will be charged with trafficking, even 
if the quantity they are trying to sell is small.

Importing narcotics charges will also be laid if a person is caught 
entering Canada with illegal drugs in their possession.

The maximum penalty for drug trafficking is life in prison. Most 
often, the penalty given by the court includes some jail time and probation.

Drug trafficking is a serious offence with serious consequences. If 
you have been charged with drug trafficking or possession, you should 
consult a lawyer for assistance.
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