Is possession of marijuana a criminal offense?
Yes. Although there is ongoing social and legal debate about what the law should be, possession of marijuana remains a criminal offense under the current Controlled Drugs and Substances Act. While there are medical exceptions, having any amount of marijuana is illegal in all provinces in Canada.
You don’t have to own the marijuana – you just have to have it in your possession.
Many people believe that marijuana possession has been decriminalized in Canada, which is false. Having any quantity of marijuana is illegal in Halton Region and police make hundreds of seizures a year of marijuana and arrest and charge hundreds of people for possession of marijuana. Halton Police also use the Court Diversion program to work with youth who will benefit from it. If you are charged with possession of marijuana, you should speak to a lawyer.
Is the amount of marijuana important?
Yes – a small amount is less serious. The more you have, the greater the chance that you may be charged with possession for the purpose of trafficking, a more serious offense with more serious penalties. The way the marijuana is packaged is also important.
Decriminalization versus Legalization
There is a lot of discussion in recent years about decriminalization of marijuana. The terms “decriminalize” and “legalize” are often used interchangeably, but they do not mean the same thing.
Decriminalization of marijuana will mean that it is still illegal to possess and sell it. The main difference is that for cases of minor possession (30g or less), the individual would not enter the criminal justice system. They would not receive a court date and trial, and would not receive a criminal charge. They would however still receive a fine. This is not unlike receiving a ticket for speeding.
Legalization of marijuana means that it is legal to produce, sell, and use it, but with restrictions. The government regulates its production and sales, and sets limits on when and who can use it (for example, minimum age to purchase, banned use while driving, banned use in public, etc.).
Know the facts.
It can be hard to think of the future, especially for kids who are having the time of their life living in the present, but conviction of a marijuana possession charge can haunt them well beyond what they can currently see. A criminal record has far reaching implications and can affect a youth’s post-secondary education acceptance, work and travel opportunities and also impact eligibility for future loans and credit card acceptance.
Minor possession (30g or less for Marijuana, 1g or less for Hash and Hash Oil) can lead to a 6 month jail penalty and/or a $1000 fine.
- Minor possession can result in a lower level offence called a summary conviction. Anyone who is charged with this lower level offense is not required to have their fingerprints or photographs taken, but still enters the criminal justice system. They could be given a court date and have a trial. A person convicted under this charge will have a court record of this conviction.
- First time minor possession conviction can result in a maximum penalty of 6 months in jail and/or a $1,000 fine.
- For possession of small amounts of marijuana, the Halton Regional Police Service have the alternative option of sending the subject into a ‘Diversion Program’. If the youth complies with the program, this alternative keeps minor and usually first-time offenders out of the court system.
- For possession of hash oil, the weight of the vial counts. The weight of the vial added to the weight of the hash oil is likely to be more than 1 gram, meaning it would not be considered minor possession, but is a more serious offence.
Possession of larger quantities of the drug (over 30g of Marijuana or 1g of Hash or Hash Oil) can lead to life imprisonment in jail.
- Possession of larger quantities can result in a charge of Trafficking or Possession for the purpose of trafficking. This is a much more serious offence and, depending on the exact quantity and previous record of the offender, can carry a conviction penalty of imprisonment from 5 years less a day up to and including life imprisonment.
- According to the Controlled Drug and Substances Act, there is a mandatory minimum sentence of 2 years in prison for anyone charged with the above offence while nearby a school.
- A permit is required in order to possess or use marijuana for medical purposes.
- Health Canada allows people to possess and use marijuana for approved medical purposes under the Marijuana Medical Access Regulations (MMAR).
- These laws deal only with medical cannabis and not marijuana law for general use. To be approved an individual must provide a declaration from a medical practitioner. Individuals can also hold a license to produce and grow their own marijuana.
Roadside checks have been found to prevent people from drinking and driving because they know they may be caught and charged. Under current federal law, refusing a roadside drug test is treated the same as declining a breath test for alcohol.
By law, Canadian police who suspect a driver of being impaired by any drug can conduct a Standardized Field Sobriety Test, which is a roadside test of physical coordination. If found to be impaired, the driver will have to complete a 12-step Drug Evaluation and Classification (DEC) assessment. The driver will have to give a bodily fluid sample (blood, saliva or urine). The DEC is led by a specially trained police officer, called a Drug Recognition Expert, and takes 45–60 minutes to complete.
Students can be suspended or expelled from school for having, using, or selling marijuana at school.
School board staff (e.g. including teachers, administrators and non-teaching staff) must respond to any student behavior which is likely to be harmful to the school climate.
The school will open an investigation if a staff member suspects a student is using and/or selling illegal drugs in any case where it will impact the school climate. An administrator will interview the student, and may ask the student to empty pockets/bags and lockers so they can be checked. Having illegal drugs can lead to being suspended or expelled. If a student is suspected of trafficking illegal drugs, the Police must be contacted.