Dear Herb: What are the penalties for possessing illicit cannabis?
Is it worth the risk of ordering marijuana from an unlicensed mail-order dispensary?
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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 21/11/2018 (1534 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Dear Herb: I read that it’s illegal to order cannabis or cannabis edibles from another province through Canada Post.
If I choose to break the law and decide to order through the mail, what could the penalty be if I’m caught? — Outlaw in Waiting
Dear Outlaw: Thanks for your question. If you choose to break the law, it’s only reasonable to know what you’re risking.
It’s illegal to buy cannabis edibles right now, since commercially produced edibles are currently a form of unregulated, illicit cannabis. Those products should be legal to buy sometime in 2019, after the federal government enacts a new suite of regulations. (You can, however, legally make your own edibles at home right now, as long as you’re not using any kind of organic solvent.)
And even though it’s legal to order cannabis by mail from a provincially licensed retailer, those stores don’t ship to customers in other provinces.
Therefore, the only way to order mail-order cannabis, or edibles, from another province right now is to buy illegally from an unlicensed, online mail-order dispensary. (Weed industry folks refer to these as MOMs, for “mail-order marijuana”.)
These websites existed well before legalization, and they’re still around. Most of them appear to be based in B.C. Some of them purport to be legal.
Assuming you’re older than 18, the Cannabis Act makes it illegal to possess any amount of cannabis that you know is illicit cannabis. If you got caught, the Act lays out three possible penalties, depending on how the offence is prosecuted.
The first, and worst, possible penalty would be imprisonment for up to five years. That’s if a Crown prosecutor chose to pursue your illegal marijuana possession as an indictable offence, which is the most serious kind of crime.
However, the idea of an individual being charged with an indictable offence for possessing a relatively small amount of illicit cannabis seems ludicrous to me — in my opinion, prosecution for illicit cannabis possession as an indictable offence would be reserved for someone with a truly immense amount of illegal weed, likely for the purpose of selling it.
The second possible penalty could occur if your possession of illicit cannabis gets prosecuted as a less serious summary conviction offence. The summary conviction penalty for illicit cannabis possession is up to six months in prison, a fine of up to $5,000, or both.
Both those penalties are pretty bad, but the Cannabis Act allows for a third, more lenient option. If an adult is caught possessing 50 grams or less of illicit cannabis, they could be penalized with a ticket. In this case, the ticket would cost $200 “plus a victim surcharge… and any applicable administrative fees.”
Paying the ticket on time would mean pleading guilty to the offence — but you’d also receive an absolute discharge, meaning you wouldn’t get a conviction on your record. Your illicit cannabis would also be forfeited to the government.
Those are the three possible penalties laid out in the federal Cannabis Act, Outlaw. Be aware that some provincial cannabis laws also include their own penalties for illicit cannabis possession.
The final possibility is that nothing would happen, and whatever hypothetical authority busts you for possessing illicit weed decides to let you off the hook. Of course, this would depend entirely on the attitude of your local law enforcement.
All this raises a question: are police even going after individual Canadians for possessing illicit marijuana? I keep a pretty close eye on Canadian cannabis news, and in the month since legalization I haven’t heard of a single case of someone being charged for illicit cannabis possession under the Cannabis Act that didn’t also involve production or trafficking.
For example, RCMP in Manitoba charged a man with possession of illicit cannabis in October — but he was also growing almost 100 plants illegally in his house. Similarly, the Ontario Provincial Police recently charged two men with possession of illicit cannabis after they executed a search warrant and found almost 15,000 grams of weed.
Right now, it seems to me that Canadian law enforcement is mostly concerned with enforcing the law against people producing selling illicit cannabis, not people buying and using it. That could change with time.
I’m not saying you should break the law and order from an unlicensed mail-order marijuana dispensary. But if you do, at least you know the potential risks of getting caught.
Got a question about cannabis? Herb answers your questions about legal consumption and growing, the law, etiquette — you name it, he’ll look into it.
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