Sentencing for drug offences

Drug offences are a unique set of offences in Canada, and are criminalized under the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act (CDSA) as opposed to the Criminal Code like most other criminal offences. This also means that drug offences are prosecuted not by the local provincial Crown’s office, but rather by Federal Crowns from the Public Prosecutions Services of Canada (PPSC).

Sentencing for drug offences has additional purposes, in addition to those found in the Criminal Code. Section 10 of the CDSA reads: “Without restricting the generality of the Criminal Code, the fundamental purpose of any sentence for an offence under this Part is to contribute to the respect for the law and the maintenance of a just, peaceful and safe society while encouraging rehabilitation, and treatment in appropriate circumstances, of offenders and acknowledging the harm done to victims and to the community.” Drug offences also have their own unique enumerated aggravating factors set out in s. 10(2), which include whether a weapon was used, whether violence was used, or if the trafficking was near a school. These extra considerations create a more structured sentencing regime for drugs, with most types of drugs having their own range of sentence.

Drug trafficking is treated differently for those who are social users (marijuana at a party), to small time trafficking, to full grown commercial operations. Consideration is also given to whether the accused is selling in our to support their own habit, which is mitigating, compared to someone selling purely for a financial gain at the cost of other’s addictions, which is more aggravating. The type of drug also matters greatly – sentencing for marijuana is vastly different from heroin or cocaine.

Drug offences also have a number of mandatory minimum sentences. While a number of these have been struck down, they have not all been struck down. These mandatory minimums remove discretion from the judge, and create rigid frameworks within which defence and Crowns have to work on any potential negotiation.

Criminal records for drug offences bring with it other consideration, which include difficulty for travelling abroad – each country has their own restrictions on entry and some include convictions for drug trafficking as a bar to entry – as well as immigration consequences for foreign nationals or permanent residents convicted in Canada who may be deemed inadmissible to Canada.

Drug offences create a myriad of issues, and there is no such thing as a simple sentencing for a drug offence. These offences are ones that should be dealt with in consultation of a skilled criminal defence counsel who can ensure that you are able to receive the best result for your matter.


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