Script 201 gives information only, not legal advice. If you have a legal problem or need legal advice, you should speak to a lawyer. For the name of a lawyer to consult, call Lawyer Referral at 604.687.3221 in the lower mainland or 1.800.663.1919 elsewhere in British Columbia.
Is possession of marijuana a criminal offense?
Yes. Possession of marijuana is a criminal offense under the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act (available at laws.justice.gc.ca - click on “English”, then on “Consolidated Acts”, then on “C”, and then scroll down to the Act). You don’t have to own the marijuana – you just have to have, or possess, it. There are medical exceptions. If you are charged with possession of marijuana, you should speak to a lawyer.
What must the prosecutor prove to convict you? What can you do?
In court, the prosecutor, also called the crown counsel (Crown), must prove – beyond a reasonable doubt – that you:
- had control of the marijuana – for example, the police found it on you or in an area you controlled, such as a car, suitcase, or bedroom, and
- knew the marijuana was there.
If the Crown proves both these things, the judge will convict you. To prove these things, the Crown will have witnesses – normally the police officer who arrested you – tell the court (or testify) about the situation when they found the marijuana on you. Witnesses testify under oath, meaning they promise to tell the truth. You can question, or cross-examine, each witness the Crown uses.
After the Crown finishes, you – and your witnesses, if you have any – can tell the court what happened. To do this, you have to take an oath promising to tell the truth, and then give evidence as a witness. If you have any witnesses who saw what happened and who can support your story, you can call them to testify, or give evidence. They also have to promise to tell the truth. You then question them about what they know. When you and your witnesses finish giving evidence, the Crown can question, or cross-examine, you and them.
Lastly, you and the Crown summarize your positions by making “submissions” to the court. For more information, check script 211, called “Defending Yourself Against a Criminal Charge”, and script 212, called “Pleading Guilty to a Criminal Charge”.
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.
What are the penalties?
For a first conviction, if you had less than 30 grams of marijuana, the maximum penalties are a fine of $1000 or 6 months in jail, or both. But the penalty for a first offense is usually much less.
You may also get a criminal record. That can prevent you from traveling to other countries, getting certain jobs, being bonded (which some jobs require), and applying for citizenship. Check script 205, called “Criminal Records and Applying for a Record Suspension,” for more information.
If it is your first offence, ask the judge for a discharge or ask the Crown for diversion (or alternative measures). If you meet the conditions of the discharge or if you complete the alternative measures, you will not get a criminal record. For more on discharges, check script 203, called “Conditional Sentences, Probation and Discharges”. For more on diversion, check script 212, called “Pleading Guilty to a Criminal Charge”.
The legal issues for this crime can be complex and a conviction can seriously harm you. If you are charged with this crime, you should talk to a lawyer.
[updated August 2011]
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