If you have found yourself facing drug charges in British Columbia, you likely are concerned about the penalties you may be facing. The Controlled Drugs and Substances Act clarifies that possession of cocaine, heroin, amphetamines, and other drugs that are considered a controlled substance is a criminal act. Therefore, drug possession charges can leave you with a criminal record. 

Depending on the nature of the drugs, if found guilty the conviction could lead to jail time, community service, a drug treatment court program, and fines. To avoid the worst consequences, anyone facing charges for possession of a controlled substance should immediately seek legal advice from a lawyer who understands criminal law and the drug involved in the charge.


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What is Considered Drug Possession in Canada?

While a police officer may have arrested you for drug possession, to be found guilty there are several essential elements that must be proven beyond a reasonable doubt by the Crown Counsel. 

First, the Crown Counsel must prove that you had knowledge of the drug. For example, a drug found in the closed glove compartment of your vehicle, absent any other evidence, does not prove you had knowledge it was there. Second, the Crown must prove you had intent or consent to possess the drug. A package of drugs delivered to your house without your consent does not establish possession. Third, the Crown must prove that you had control of the drug in question, meaning that the drug was found in a place you control (such as home or car) or was found on your person. 

While drug possession may seem like a matter of common sense, the essential elements that must be proven are not straightforward and must be applied carefully to each unique set of facts. For this reason, it is essential to be represented by a lawyer for all criminal offences since they know how to work the law to prove you were not in actual possession of the drug in question.


Is Possession a Summary or Indictable Offence?

Drug possession is a tricky charge since it is considered a hybrid offence, which can be treated as either a summary or indictable offence at the Crown Counsel’s discretion. An indictable offence is punished more severely than a summary offence after conviction. Three factors play into this decision: if you have been previously convicted of other offences, the quantity of drugs in your physical custody, and the type of drugs involved in the charge.

While the prosecutor uses their discretion and all drug offences are different, possession of cannabis resin over the legal amount or other “soft” drugs for first-time offenders will often be treated more lightly than cocaine or fentanyl possession in high amounts. However, any conviction for drug possession can be incredibly serious and have huge consequences, including your ability to enter the United States, so all drug charges should be taken seriously.


Can You Be Charged with a Cannabis Possession Offence?

Yes, it is still possible to be charged with a cannabis possession offence. The Federal Cannabis Act created offences for possessing certain types or quantities of cannabis. Due to the legalization of recreational marijuana, cannabis resin or a small quantity of marijuana is legal and is allowed for personal use. There are still offences though, including possessing illicit cannabis and possessing more than 30 grams of cannabis in a public place. 


Sentences  in Drug Offence Charges

The Controlled Drugs and Substances Act outlines a range of penalties for drug possession. The maximum possible range of sentence varies based on two major factors: the nature of the drugs and whether the Crown proceeds by indictment or summarily. Various drugs are placed in various Schedules, with Schedule I including harder drugs such as heroin, cocaine or fentanyl, and the harshest maximum penalties. 


Type of Illegal Drugs

The potential maximum sentences are harshest for Schedule I drugs, while the punishments generally decrease as you move into Schedule II, III and IV drugs. The penalties assigned to each drug type are ranked in severity in classifications that include possession, trafficking, possession with the purpose of trafficking, and importing/exporting. The maximum penalty can vary based on whether you are represented by a knowledgeable lawyer and/or have a previous criminal offence.


Presence of Aggravating factors as Defined by the Controlled Substances Act

Certain aggravating factors can affect the maximum penalty attached to personal possession charges. These factors include whether a weapon was used, whether violence was used, whether the offence occurred near a school, whether the drugs were sold to a minor, whether the individual has a previous drug conviction, or whether a minor was recruited to participate in the offence.   


Mandatory Maximum Penalties for Possession Drug Offences


statue of Lady Justice with criminal defence lawyer in background

In most cases, a designated substance offence will result in a maximum sentence of a fine of $1,000 and up to six months in prison if the drug offence is a first offence. However, if it is a second offence, the fine can be up to $2,000 and one year in prison.

However, there is a great deal of movement in these potential penalties with a strong lawyer by your side. If first-time offenders are found in possession of “soft drugs,” they can often reach a plea deal that results in fines from $250-$500 and probation instead of jail times. The amount of drugs in their possession plays a significant role in the potential penalties.

On the other hand, Schedule I drug offences are not taken lightly. For example, when it comes to the question of “what is the penalty for the possession of cocaine?,” the answer is that it can, in fact, lead to years of jail time, even for first-time offenders.

As you can see, the penalties for the possession of controlled drugs and substances can vary widely according to circumstances, but they should never be taken lightly. If you are facing drug possession charges, the help of an experienced criminal lawyer is the best way for you to increase your chances of a favourable outcome. 

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