Drug Crimes

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The Main Illegal Drugs in Canada

In Canada, the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act classifies drugs, called “controlled substances,” into six main categories corresponding to six schedules of the Act. Here are some examples of substances listed in each schedule:

  • Schedule I substances: opium, morphine, cocaine, codeine, heroin, methadone, methamphetamine (crystal meth), amphetamines (speed), flunitrazepam (Rohypnol), GHB, phencyclidine (PCP, ketamine)
  • Schedule II substances: cannabis (pot, marijuana), cannabis resin (hashish)
  • Schedule III substances: mescaline, ecstasy, psilocybin (magic mushrooms)
  • Schedule IV substances: barbiturates, anabolic steroids, librium, valium
  • Schedule V substances: propylhexedrine
  • Schedule VI substances: ephedrine, pseudoephedrine

The Act also covers the “precursors” of these substances, which means the components used to make them. It also covers “analogous” substances, which are substances whose chemical make-up is basically the same as that of a controlled substance.

The website of the Department of Justice of Canada publishes a complete and up-to-date list of drugs that are listed in the Schedules.


Main Crimes Related to These Drugs

Here are the main crimes:

  • possession
  • possession for purpose of trafficking
  • trafficking
  • importing and exporting
  • production

The rest of this article takes a closer look at these crimes.


Drug Possession

Some drug-related crimes have to do with possession. 

These crimes involve the substances listed in Schedules I, II and III, such as marijuana and cocaine. 

Contrary to popular belief, you can be charged with possession even if you only have a very small amount of the drug on you.



Possessing drugs is not a crime in some cases. For example, a person has a doctor’s prescription for medical marijuana to treat a health issue.

Exceptionally, people with drugs on them will not be found guilty of drug possession. For example, someone in danger of dying from a drug overdose and anyone helping that person will not be found guilty of drug possession.


Drug Trafficking

Trafficking means selling, giving, administering, transporting, sending or delivering one of the drugs listed in Schedules I to V. 

The word “selling” includes not only the sale itself, but also the presentation for sale, the offer for sale, possession for the purpose of selling and the distribution–even for free–of one of the prohibited substances.

Similarly, possession for the purpose of trafficking a drug listed in Schedules I to V is also a crime. This crime is often proved if the drug is discovered together with objects used to sell it: scales, cash, and lists of people who owe money or large quantities of the drug wrapped in many small packages. A person can be accused of this crime when there is no direct proof of sale or trafficking but the circumstances clearly show that the drug was intended for this purpose.


Importing, Exporting or Possession With the Goal of Exporting a Drug 

Yes. The law also makes it a crime to import or export substances listed in Schedules I to V. It is basically a kind of trafficking that involves bringing an illegal substance into or out of the country. Possession of a substance for the purpose of exporting it is also a crime.


Drug Production

Production of a substance listed in Schedules I to V is a crime as well. 

Therefore, growing marijuana is a form of production.



When people are found guilty of drug crimes, a penalty is imposed. These penalties are called sentences. The law has both maximum sentences and, in some cases, minimum sentences. The maximum sentences go as high as life in prison. 

In some cases, the minimum sentences are one or two years in prison. For a court to order a minimum sentence, these conditions must be met:

  1. The accused knew, before pleading guilty or not guilty, that a minimum sentence might apply.
  2. The lawyer representing the government intended to prove the circumstances supporting a minimum sentence.  

Also, before ordering a sentence, a judge can give the person found guilty a chance to take part in a drug rehab program. If the person successfully completes the program, the judge is not required to order the minimum sentence.

Finally, on top of any other sentence, the judge is required to impose a fine called a victim surcharge.


Factors Judge’s Consider When Sentencing 

Judges must respect the principles for sentencing set out in the Criminal Code.

Judges must also take into account “aggravating” factors specific to drug-related crimes. An aggravating factor is something that makes the crime more serious in the eyes of the law. They include the following:

  • using or carrying a weapon at the time of the crime
  • threatening or using violence at the time of the crime
  • involvement of minors (people under 18) as accomplices or customers
  • committing the crime on or near school grounds or near an area where people under the age of 18 spend time
  • a previous record of committing the crime

However, the judge isn’t required to take these factors into account for crimes with minimum sentences.

Also, once a person is found guilty of a drug-related crime, the judge can adjust the sentence depending on the crime, the nature of the substance and the amount of the drug involved. For example, a person found guilty of trafficking a large quantity of cocaine can expect a much longer sentence than a person found guilty of possessing a small amount of marijuana.

The reason for the trafficking can also play a major role in the sentence. For example, a person who is selling drugs to make enough money to satisfy his own drug addiction might get a lighter sentence than a person who is trafficking only to make a profit.


Other Possible Consequences of Being Found Guilty 

The items connected to the crime that were seized by the police can be confiscated at the time of sentencing and sold or destroyed. Examples of these items include the drug itself, the scales used to weigh the drug, profits related to the crime, a vehicle used to transport the drug or the irrigation and lighting systems used for growing marijuana plants.

In addition, for people found guilty of trafficking, possession for the purpose of trafficking, production, or importing or exporting substances, the judge must order them not have to weapons, ammunition or explosives for 10 years.

Important !
This article explains in a general way the law that applies in Quebec. This article is not a legal opinion or legal advice. To find out the specific rules for your situation, consult a lawyer or notary.