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Trafficking / Possession for the Purpose of Trafficking

The Charge

A person can be charged under the Cannabis Act for trafficking or possessing cannabis for the purpose of trafficking unless it is in accordance with the regulations set out in that Act. The penalties for trafficking cannabis illegally remain severe: if the Crown proceeds by indictment, the maximum sentence is up to 14 years in jail; should Crown proceed summarily, the maximum sentence is 6 months in jail.

With respect to other controlled drugs, the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act sets out that different potential penalties depend on the type and amount of drug involved. Controlled drugs and substances are grouped into “schedules” by the CDSA. Drugs are divided into groups according to their chemical composition. Some of the typical drugs are:

Schedule 1: cocaine, morphine, heroin, codeine, fentanyl, oxycodone, GHB, opium, amphetamines, MDMA
Schedule 2: cannabis, resin, and seeds
Schedule 3: LSD, psilocybin, mushrooms
Schedule 4: barbiturates, Clonazepam, Diazepam, and anabolic steroids
Schedule 5: precursors involved in the manufacturing of controlled substances

Penalties for both trafficking and possession for the purpose of trafficking in hard drugs is significant. The maximum sentence is up to lifetime imprisonment for Schedule 1 or 2 substances. The range of sentencing typically starts at 9-12 months in jail for a low level trafficking offence.

Courts have defined trafficking to include “giving” or “delivering” a drug to another person. Profit is not an element of the offence, however the Crown will certainly seek greater penalties where then can show that the offence was motivated by financial gain. The more the facts of the case point to the accused profiting from an organized distribution system, the greater the sentence Crown will seek upon conviction.

The Investigation

Police may be targeting a suspected drug trafficker based on information provided through a tip or, alternatively, police may literally stumble across a suspected drug trafficker during, say, a routine traffic stop or another encounter. In either situation, the law is the same. Police may not search someone for drugs unless they have “reasonable and probable grounds” to believe the person is in possession of a controlled substance. A mere hunch, or suspicion, is not enough.

As experienced drug defence lawyers, we can help clients understand their various rights under the Charter. First, everyone who is detained or arrested by police has the right to be promptly advised as to the reason for their detention and that they have the right to speak to a lawyer. This right is guaranteed by s. 10. The right to remain silent – i.e. the right to not provide a statement to police – is guaranteed by s. 7. In the context of a drug investigation, it is important for a suspect to know and understand that they have the right to remain silent upon arrest. Should charges be approved, the Crown will be obligated to provide full disclosure of the details of the case to the accused. There is clearly an advantage to understand the case against you before providing an explanation. This is the right of everyone in Canada.

Recent Successes

R. vs. A.N. - Vancouver Provincial Court

Charges: Assault with a Weapon.
Issue: Given the rehabilitative steps we guided our client through, whether it was in the public interest for Crown to seek a conviction on this charge.
Result: Mr. Johnson was able to persuade Crown to permit our client to plead to the lesser offence of common assault. After hearing Mr. Johnson's submissions, the court granted our client a conditional discharge. No criminal conviction.

R. vs. J.J. - Richmond Provincial Court

Charges: Assault Causing Bodily Harm.
Issue: Whether there was a substantial likelihood of  the Crown being able to prove that bodily harm occurred.
Result: Mr. Johnson was able to persuade Crown to permit our client to plead to the lesser offence of common assault. After hearing Mr. Johnson's submissions, the court granted our client a conditional discharge. No criminal conviction.

R. vs. S.W. - Vancouver Provincial Court

Charge: Assault (domestic).
Issue: Given that the complainant had instigated the altercation, whether it was in the public interest for our client to be convicted of the offence.
Result: We were able to guide our client through a course of rehabilitation and, after hearing Mr. Mines' submissions, the Court granted our client a conditional discharge and placed him on a non-reporting probation order for six months. No criminal conviction.

R. vs. S.W. - Richmond Provincial Court

Charge: Refusing to comply with a testing demand.
Issue: Given the circumstances of the offence and our client, whether it was in the public interest to proceed with the criminal prosecution.
Result: Mr. Mines was able to persuade Crown counsel to proceed on the lesser Motor Vehicle Act offence of driving without due care. Rather than a criminal conviction and a minimum 12 month driving prohibition, our client was liable to pay a $350 fine and a 2 month driving prohibition. No criminal record.

R. vs. H.S. - North Vancouver Provincial Court

Charge: Driving While Prohibited.
Issue: Given the circumstances of the offence and our client, whether it was necessary for Crown to proceed with the driving while prohibited charge, which carries a mandatory minimum 12 month driving prohibition.
Result: Mr. Johnson was able to persuade Crown to proceed on the lesser Motor Vehicle Act charge of driving without a driver's licence. After hearing Mr. Johnson's submissions our client was sentenced to a fine and a 4 month driving prohibition.

R. vs. J.S. - North Vancouver Provincial Court

Charge: Assault Causing Bodily Harm (domestic).
Issue: Whether the Crown could prove that bodily harm resulted and, whether the rehabilitative steps our client had taken justified the Court granting a conditional discharge.
Result: Mr. Mines was able to persuade Crown counsel to proceed on the charge of common assault. After hearing Mr. Mines' submissions, the Court granted our client a conditional discharge. No criminal conviction.

R. vs. C.M. - North Vancouver Provincial Court

Charge: Assault; Threatening.
Issue: Whether there was a substantial likelihood of conviction in this alleged "road rage" case.
Result: Mr. Johnson was able to provide information to Crown counsel on our client's behalf that led Crown to conclude there was no substantial likelihood of conviction. No charge approved. No criminal record.

R. vs. M.D. - North Vancouver Provincial Court

Charges: Theft Under $5000; Uttering Threats.
Issue: Whether, given our client's circumstances and remorse, whether it was in the public interest for criminal charges to proceed.
Result: We were able to provide information to police investigators which resulted in police deciding to not forward any charges to Crown. No criminal record.

R. vs. H.L. - Richmond Provincial Court

Charge: Sexual Assault.
Issue: Whether there was a substantial likelihood of a conviction.
Result: Mr. Johnson was able to provide information to the Crown on our client's behalf that persuaded Crown that the case did not meet the charge approval standard. No charge was approved. No criminal record.

R. vs. S.F. - Provincial Court of Newfoundland

Charge: Possession for the Purpose of Trafficking (Marijuana).
Issue: Whether it there was a substantial likelihood of obtaining a conviction.
Result: Upon considering Mr. Johnson's representations, Crown counsel concluded that there was no longer a likelihood of conviction. Crown withdrew the charge, bringing the matter to an end. No criminal record.

R. vs. M.B. - Surrey Provincial Court

Charge: Application for firearms prohibition and forfeiture.
Issue: Whether Crown could establish that our client posed a risk to himself or others.
Result: Mid trial, Mr. Mines was able to obtain a successful resolution in which our client consented to an 18 month prohibition rather than the 5 years Crown had been seeking.  Further, rather than having to forfeit the  $15,000 worth of weapons that police seized,  Crown agreed to allow our client to sell them to a suitable buyer.

R. vs. C.B. - Vancouver Police Investigation

Charge: Possession of proceeds of crime.
Issue: Whether there was any lawful authority to arrest our client and seize funds from him.
Result: Mr. Johnson was able to persuade the investigating officer that there was no basis to search our client and to return the $2400 cash that he had seized. No charges approved. Not criminal record.

The Defence

Unreasonable Search

Section 8 of the Charter guarantees the right to be free from an unreasonable search and seizure. The role of defence counsel in a drug case often involves analyzing the actions of investigating police officers to test whether they have, in fact, conducted a lawful search as authorized by the Charter. Drug searches can take place in a variety of contexts and places. In some situations, police must obtain pre-authorization from a judge or justice in order to search a place or thing. The requirement to obtain a search warrant will depend on the privacy interest the accused has in the thing searched. For example, a person has a very high privacy interest in their home or in their personal computer. They tend to have a lower privacy interest in things such as their friend’s car or their employer’s desk. Where police overreach their authority and search someone on a mere hunch, or based on assumptions rather than fact, we will apply to the court under s. 24(2) of the Charter to have the evidence excluded from the trial. The general idea is that when police obtain evidence from an unlawful search that violates our client’s rights, the court ought to see the evidence as “tainted” and tending to bring the administration of justice into disrepute. Without the admission of the drug evidence into the trial, the court will find insufficient evidence to convict.

The Drugs were not for the Purpose of Trafficking

In order to prove possession for the purpose of trafficking, the Crown will usually bring a police expert witness to court. They will testify that the circumstances of the drug seizure tend to prove that the drugs were intended to be sold or distributed. Typical evidence relates to the way the drugs are packaged – many small packs suggest trafficking. The presence of scales, “score sheets,” cash and cell phones also tend to suggest trafficking. Our experience in defending drug charges allows us to develop arguments aimed at challenging expert Crown witnesses on their opinions that the circumstances of the drug seizure necessarily suggest trafficking rather than simple possession. In many cases we have been able to negotiate possession for the purpose of trafficking charges down to simple possession charges to avoid jail sentences for our clients.

Lack of Possession

In many situations, accused persons are arrested without drugs directly in their possession. For example, they may be driving someone else’s car and drugs are found in an unmarked box in the trunk. A roommate may be charged with possession for the purpose of trafficking, but none of the drugs are 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 substance in order to be convicted. We are dedicated to holding the Crown to the high standard that the law requires when prosecuting drug 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.