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Things to know about mandatory minimum sentences for drug crimes

In 2012 Canadian legislators passed the controversial Safe Streets and Communities Act, which, among other things, set mandatory minimum sentences for certain kinds of drug offences and increased prison sentences for marijuana offences.

Specifically, the law requires a minimum prison sentence of one year if the accused is convicted of a drug crime under any of the following circumstances:

  • The defendant was previously convicted of a designated drug offence within the last 10 years. (Whether or not the mandatory minimum applies depends on a number of factors, including the kind and the amount of the drug in question.)
  • The defendant is found to have used violence or a weapon, or threatened to use violence or a weapon, when the drug offence was committed.
  • The drug offence was committed "for the benefit of, at the direction of or in association with a criminal organization."

The law also calls for a mandatory minimum sentence of two years if certain drug offences are committed in or near a school, in a prison or if the defendant involved a person younger than 18 in committing the offence. In cases involving marijuana trafficking or production, the mandatory minimum sentence could be more or less than a year, depending on the amount of cannabis.

The Department of Justice website has more on the specific changes enacted under the Safe Streets and Communities Act.

While the new sentencing guidelines have been in effect for more than two years, there is still misunderstanding among some lawyers and judges about how the law should be applied. For example, consider a recent case in which a 27-year-old Sarnia man was mistakenly sentenced to a year in prison when his sentence should have been shorter.

For more on creating custom defence strategies in drug-related cases, please see Neuberger & Partners' overview of drug trafficking charges.

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