In Case You Didn’t “Say No To Drugs”…

It doesn’t matter if you only had a few grams of marijuana on you, or if you were “just holding it for a friend”. The police can, and likely will, charge you with a drug offence under the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act. In Canada, it is illegal to possess and/or smoke marijuana; claiming that you thought otherwise will not constitute a valid defence. As such, in the event that you are charged with a drug offence, it is important that you have a clear understanding of the charges as well as their possible consequences.

Youths and young adults are ‘the usual suspects’ when it comes to minor marijuana possession charges. Even if you are an upstanding citizen with no intention to cause trouble, the police still have the authority to lay charges if you are caught with an illicit substance. That being said, it is important to note that the police cannot search you merely on a hunch. Unless the search is conducted incidental to your arrest, the police officer must either have a search warrant, or reasonable grounds to believe that you have an illegal substance on you. Accordingly, if a police officer walks up to you and says “I smell weed, I’d like to search you”, you may be legally entitled to refuse.  However, that is a very simplified depiction of a convoluted area of law. Professional legal representation is generally required to properly raise defences based upon these constitutional grounds.

To be convicted of possession, the Crown must prove, beyond a reasonable doubt, that you had control over the substance (usually evidenced by it being in your possession), that you knew the character of the substance, and that the substance was in fact illicit under the C.D.S.A. This means that you may be able to avoid conviction if, for example, you borrowed your friend’s jacket with no knowledge that there was marijuana in the pocket. Similarly, if you knew there was a bag of “something” in the pocket but honestly had absolutely no idea that it was a narcotic, then you may be acquitted at trial.

If you deny having committed the offence, or believe the Crown cannot prove the aforementioned elements of the offence, you may wish to fight the charges at trial. Should the Crown fail to prove your guilt beyond a reasonable doubt at trial, you will be acquitted, thereby avoiding legal sanctions. If, however, you are found guilty of possessing a controlled substance, you will be sentenced. Depending on the circumstances, your sentence may consist of a discharge or a conviction. A conviction entails a criminal record, and may include jail time if the offence is serious enough. If you are found guilty of simple possession of marijuana, then a discharge is the more probable sentence. Convictions on possession charges are generally reserved for individuals with a history of drug activity, or where the substance in question is a “hard drug”, such as cocaine.

In the event that you do not wish to go to trial, there are two ways in which you can facilitate the resolution of your matter. The first way is through “Diversion”, which is the process by which your charges are “diverted” out of the court system. If you are charged with possession of marijuana and have no prior drug charges, then it is likely that the Crown will offer you Diversion. Should you accept Diversion, you will be advised as to one or more reformatory tasks you must complete for your matter to be resolved. Upon your completion of the prescribed task(s), the charges against you will be dismissed. For drug charges, the most common forms of diversion entail performing community service and/or writing an essay explaining the adverse effects of drug use. Regardless of the specific task stipulated, the purpose will be to ensure you acceptance of responsibility for your action, and deter you from re-offending. Diversion, if offered, is often the best court of action as it provides for a prompt resolution to your matter without the risk of a conviction or other serious penal sanctions.

The second way you can resolve your case without going to trial is through a guilty plea. In the event that you are not offered diversion (e.g. if you have a relevant criminal record, or if the offence is quite serious) but you do not wish to go to trial, then your only other option would be to plead guilty. This will involve you admitting to having committed the offence as alleged, and subsequent to the plea hearing, you will be sentenced. Depending on the specific facts of your case, you will receive either a discharge or a criminal conviction. A conviction will entail a criminal record, and may include jail time if the circumstances warrants such. For further information on guilty pleas, be sure to review [[link to GUILTY PLEA ARTICLE]].

A criminal record pertaining to drug charges can have devastating effects on various aspects of your life. Firstly, Criminal background checks are becoming an increasingly common prerequisite for various employment  opportunities. Employers are reluctant to hire persons who have criminal records, as they feel such convictions may adversely affect the employee’s productivity and work ethic. Secondly, a criminal record can greatly hinder your ability to travel outside of Canada. For example, any convictions for drug charges, including simple possession of marijuana, could result in your being denied entry into the United States. To overcome this ineligibility to the United States, you may have to obtain an Entry Waiver, which can be a time-consuming and costly process. Accordingly, the consequences of a criminal record for drug charges are very real and undeniably serious.

The intricate nature of drug charges makes legal representation critical for those wishing to maximize their chances of a favourable resolution. Defences pertaining to your constitutional rights can only be successfully advocated by professionals with extensive legal knowledge. Moreover, a criminal conviction and the disastrous limitations it may impose on your employment and travel abilities, can be best avoided through hiring an experienced lawyer to handle your case. Aitken Robertson will work tirelessly to resolve your matter favourably, whether it be at trial or plea hearing. Even where diversion is not initially offered, the skilled legal staff at Aitken Robertson have proven success in negotiating such a resolution, thereby avoiding the risk of criminal conviction. The value of retaining legal counsel on drug charges cannot be underestimated, so contact the law offices of Aitken Robertson at (866) 762-9218.