There have been some serious amendments to drug offences in Canada in the last year, with substantial changes made to sentencing. Harper's conservative government brought in a series of mandatory minimum sentences, including for marijuana offences. While this change reflects the Conservative's "tough on crime" agenda, it is often increasing sentences beyond what would otherwise be an appropriate sentence. Since these new sentences are mandatory, the only way to avoid jail is to successfully defend the charge. This often means hiring competent and skilled counsel.
The new mandatory minimum sentences affect a number of charges. Simple trafficking in marijuana, S. 5(1) of the CDSA, carries with it a mandatory minimum of either 1 or 2 years if certain aggravating factors are met. These factors, for mandatory minimum of 1 year, include offences committed for the benefit or at the direction of a criminal organization, the use or threat of violence, or the use or threat of a weapon. The factors, for a mandatory minimum of 2 years, include offences committed near a school or in relation to a youth. This means that if you sell marijuana to someone from your house that is near a school, you could face two years in jail.
The other offence most affected by the mandatory minimum sentences is the production of marijuana plants, S. 7(1) of the CDSA, in which the sentences are dictated based on the number of plants being grown. For production of 6-200 plants, the mandatory minimum is 6 months. For production of 201-500 plans, the mandatory minimum is 1 years. For production of over 500 plants, the mandatory minimum is 2 years.
Charges stemming from marijuana related drug offences can result in lengthy jail sentences. The new legislation removes the powers from judges to decide a case based on its merits in order to determine an appropriate sentence. While we do not support this change to the legislation and are opposed to the idea of mandatory minimums they have become a reality. The fight cannot be waged at the point of sentencing; in order to avoid jail, people accused of these crimes need to take the charges to trial and win there.