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Cannabis Act Offences

The Charge

The newly enacted Cannabis Act provides a framework for legalizing, regulating and restricting access to cannabis in Canada. The goals of the Act are to restrict youth access to cannabis and to provide for the legal production and distribution of cannabis while promoting safe use and public awareness of the health risks associated with cannabis. The Act imposes serious criminal penalties on people who break the law, especially those who import or export cannabis illegally, produce cannabis illegally or provide cannabis to youth.

What is legal?

Subject to provincial or territorial restrictions, adults who are 19 or older (in British Columbia) may legally:

Purchase limited amounts of fresh cannabis, dried cannabis, cannabis oil or cannabis plants from authorized retailers;
Possess up to 30 grams of legal dried cannabis or equivalent in non-dried form;
Consume cannabis in locations authorized by local jurisdictions;
Grow up to 4 plants per household;
Share up to 30 grams of dried cannabis or equivalent with other adults.

What remains illegal?

All possession, production and distribution outside the legal system of the Cannabis Act remains illegal. The Act sets out various offences for “Criminal Activities,” with up to a maximum penalty of 14 years in jail.

To protect youth, the Cannabis Act prohibits selling cannabis to anyone under 18 years of age. Giving or selling cannabis to youth or involving a youth to commit a cannabis related offence (such as distribution) are punishable by jail.

Possession of illicit cannabis is unlawful under the Act. Illicit cannabis is cannabis obtained from a source other than a government or other licenced cannabis retailer.

Ticketable Offences

The Cannabis Act, under section 51, sets out that for the more minor cannabis offences, police may commence proceedings by issuing a ticket and a summons to attend court. The types of ticketable offences include minor contraventions such as:

  • Possessing more than 30 but less than 50 grams of dried cannabis or its equivalent;
  • Possessing up to 50 grams of illicit cannabis;
  • Distributing or selling up to 50 grams of cannabis;
  • Possessing 5 or 6 cannabis plants.

The fine for most Cannabis Act ticketable offences is $200.00. Of note, if a person pays the fine within the time period set out by regulation, the person, under s. 52 is found guilty but deemed to have received an absolute discharge.

Criminal Offences

Other than the ticketable offences for minor cannabis offences, the Cannabis Act calls for the criminal prosecutions in cases where, for example, the person is charged with:

  • Possessing more than 50 grams of dried cannabis (or its equivalent) in a public place;
  • Distributing more than 50 grams of dried cannabis (or its equivalent);
  • Distributing cannabis to an individual under 19 years of age (in British Columbia);
  • Exporting cannabis;
  • Producing, cultivating, propagating or harvesting cannabis in excess of 6 plants without authorization.

Recent Successes

R. vs. V.B. – Vancouver Provincial Court

.Charges: Assault; Uttering Threats (domestic).
Issue: Given the rehabilitative steps we were able to guide our client through, whether it was in the public interest to proceed with the criminal prosecution.
Result: Mr. Gauthier was able to provide information to Crown counsel on our client's behalf which resulted in Crown deciding to enterr a stay of proceedings on both charges. Stay of proceedings. No criminal record.

R. vs. T.C.C. – Richmond Provincial Court

Charges: Assault of a Peace Officer.
Issue: Whether it was in the public interest for our client to be granted a discharge for his actions in spitting in the face of an RCMP officer at the Vancouver Airport.
Result: Mr. Gauthier presented information to the Court and after hearing his submissions, the Court granted our client a conditional discharge. No criminal record.

R. vs. F.S. – North Vancouver Provincial Court

Charge: Theft Under $5000.
Issue: Whether Crown could prove the number and value of the electronic devices they alleged our client stole from his workplace.
Result: Mr. Mines was able to persuade Crown counsel to allege that the theft involved  only 7 devices worth only $1000. After hearing Mr. Mines submissions, the Court granted our client a conditional discharge. No criminal conviction.

R. vs. M. G. – Sechelt RCMP investigation

Charges: Criminal harassment; Distributing intimate images without consent.
Issue: Whether the Crown could prove the circumstantial evidence they sought to rely on and whether jail was the  appropriate sentence.
Result: Mr. Gauthier was able to convince Crown counsel to not rely on much of the aggravating evidence and, on our client's guilty plea to not seek a jail sentence. After hearing Mr. Gauthier's submissions, the Court granted our client a suspended sentence with probation. No jail.

R. vs. E.K. – Vancouver Provincial Court

Charges: Criminal harassment; Distributing intimate images without consent.
Issue: Whether the Crown could prove the circumstantial evidence they sought to rely on and whether jail was the  appropriate sentence.
Result: Mr. Gauthier was able to convince Crown counsel to not rely on much of the aggravating evidence and, on our client's guilty plea to not seek a jail sentence. After hearing Mr. Gauthier's submissions, the Court granted our client a suspended sentence with probation. No jail.

R. vs. K.L. – Vancouver Provincial Court

Charge: Assault (domestic).
Issues: Whether there was a substantial likelihood of a conviction and whether it was in the public interest to proceed with the prosecution.
Result: Mr. Mines was able to provide information to Crown counsel that resulted in Crown electing to stay the proceedings and to end the prosecution. No criminal record.

R. vs. H.S. – Vancouver Provincial Court

Charge: Assault with a weapon.
Issue: Whether there was a substantial likelihood of a conviction.
Result: Mr. Mines was able to provide information to Crown counsel which resulted in Crown deciding to end the prosecution not approve any charges.  No criminal record.

R. vs. J.L. – UBC RCMP Investigation

Charges: Assault.
Issue: Whether there was a substantial likelihood of obtaining a criminal conviction and whether it was in the public interest for police to recommend charges.
Result: Mr. Gauthier was able to provide information to police whic resulted in police closing their investigation. No charges recommended. No criminal record.

R. vs. T.A. – West Shore RCMP investigation

Charge: Assault (Domestic).
Issue: Whether it was in the public interest for the Crown to proceed with a criminal prosecution.
Result: Mr. Gauthier provided information to Crown Counsel that convinced them not to approve charges against the client. No criminal prosecution. No criminal record.

R. vs. J.S. – Surrey Provincial Court

Charge: Sexual Assault (reduced to common assault.)
Issue: Whether Crown counsel could prove that our client touched the complainant for a sexual purpose.
Result: Mr. Mines was able tp persuade Crown counsel that our client did not intend to touch the complainant in a sexual manner. The Crown agreed to proceed on the lesser charge of common assault and, after hearing Mr. Mines' submissions, the Judge granted our client a conditional discharge. No criminal conviction. No jail. No sex offender registry.

R. vs. N.R. – Sechelt Provincial Court

Charge: Assault Causing Bodily Harm.
Issue: Whether it was in the pubic interest for our client to be sentenced to a conditional discharge for this offence which resulted in a serious facial cut to the complainant.

R. vs. S.K. – Surrey Provincial Court

Charges: Assault; Assault with a Weapon, Breach of a Release Order.
Issue: Whether our client could be released on bail given Crown's concerns for his willingness to attend court and potential to commit further offences.
Result: Mr. Johnston was able to persuade the Judge to release our client on the least onerous conditions.

The Defence

Because the Cannabis Act retains the power to regulate and punish for “criminal activity” associated with unauthorized distribution and possession of cannabis, criminal law defences will continue to apply to cannabis prosecutions.

Unreasonable Search

Section 8 of the Charter guarantees the right to be free from an unreasonable search. As experienced drug lawyers, we will analyze the actions of investigating officers to test whether police have, in fact, conducted a lawful search, based on reasonable grounds. Where police overreach their authority, and conduct a search based on a mere hunch or suspicion we will apply to the court under s. 24(2) of the Charter to have the evidence obtained through the unreasonable search excluded at trial. Without the admission of the cannabis that was unlawfully obtained, the court will find insufficient evidence to convict.

The Cannabis was not for the purpose of distribution or sale

In order to prove that possession was for the purpose of distribution or sale, the Crown will usually bring a police expert to court who will testify that the circumstances of the seizure, along with the packaging and weight of the cannabis tend to prove that the cannabis was intended to be distributed. Our experience in defending drug charges allows us to develop arguments aimed at challenging expert opinion that the circumstances of the cannabis seizure are only consistent with distribution and not simple possession. In many cases we have succeeded in negotiating possession for distribution charges down to simple possession charges to avoid jail sentences for our clients.

Lack of Possession

In many situations, accused persons are arrested without cannabis directly in their possession. For example, they may be driving someone else’s car and cannabis is found in an unmarked box in the trunk. A roommate may be charged with possession for distribution but none of the cannabis is found in their personal space of the residence. In these situations, the Crown will seek to prove possession through indirect, or circumstantial evidence. As experienced defence lawyers, we understand the Crown’s burden in proving that an accused had the requisite knowledge and control of the cannabis in order to be convicted. We are dedicated to holding the Crown to the high standard that the law requires when prosecuting cannabis offences. We are committed to defending our client’s rights as guaranteed by the Charter.

Start with a free consultation.

If you are being investigated by police or if you’ve been charged with a criminal or driving offence, don’t face the problem alone. Being accused of an offence is stressful. The prospects of a criminal record or jail sentence can be daunting. Even if you think there is no defence, we may be able to help. To schedule a free initial consultation with one of our Vancouver lawyers, contact us now.