Sentencing for Drug Offences

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Purpose of Sentencing for Drug Offences

Drug offences have added purpose as stated in section 10 of the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act:

Purpose of sentencing
10. (1) Without restricting the generality of the Criminal Code, the fundamental purpose of any sentence for an offence under this Part is to contribute to the respect for the law and the maintenance of a just, peaceful and safe society while encouraging rehabilitation, and treatment in appropriate circumstances, of offenders and acknowledging the harm done to victims and to the community.


It has further been stated that the purpose of the laws concerning controlled substances is general deterrence.[1]

A dial-a-dope operation relates to the "ordering delivery of illicit substances by phone".[2] A dial-a-dope operations "enable a pervasive and rapid dissemination of illicit narcotics" that wreak havoc on individuals and communities.[3] Accordingly, denunciation and deterrence are primary goals in sentencing.[4] The operation "facilitates the ease of obtaining drugs in communities and the infiltration of a criminal trade".[5] It also "requires forethought and planning".[6]

  1. U.S.A. v Dynar 1997 CanLII 359 (SCC), (1997), 115 CCC (3d) 481 (S.C.C.) at para 81 (“[T]he purpose of the law of attempt is universally acknowledged to be the deterrence of subsequent attempts”)
  2. R v Dickey, 2016 BCCA 177 (CanLII) at para 28
  3. R v Cisneros, 2014 BCCA 154 (CanLII)
  4. Cisneros, ibid.
  5. Dickey, supra at para 28
  6. Dickey, supra at para 28

General Factors

Under the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act, there are further factors that should be considered:

s. 10
Circumstances to take into consideration
(2) If a person is convicted of a designated substance offence, the court imposing sentence on the person shall consider any relevant aggravating factors including that the person

(a) in relation to the commission of the offence,
(i) carried, used or threatened to use a weapon,
(ii) used or threatened to use violence,[1]
(iii) trafficked in a substance included in Schedule I, II, III or IV or possessed such a substance for the purpose of trafficking, in or near a school, on or near school grounds or in or near any other public place usually frequented by persons under the age of eighteen years, or
(iv) trafficked in a substance included in Schedule I, II, III or IV, or possessed such a substance for the purpose of trafficking, to a person under the age of eighteen years;
(b) was previously convicted of a designated substance offence; or
(c) used the services of a person under the age of eighteen years to commit, or involved such a person in the commission of, a designated substance offence.

(3) If, under subsection (1), the court is satisfied of the existence of one or more of the aggravating factors enumerated in paragraphs (2)(a) to (c), but decides not to sentence the person to imprisonment, the court shall give reasons for that decision.


Section 10(3) suggests that where aggravating factors are found under s.10(2) that there should be a jail sentence unless there are reasons not to do so.

  1. see also Dobbin, 2009 NLCA 52 (CanLII), [2009] N.J. No. 348


See also: Definition of Weapons

A weapon that is "in immediate proximity and readily accessible by the person who possessed narcotics" will generally amount to an aggravating factor under s. 10(2) of the CDSA.[1]

  1. R v Oickle, 2015 NSCA 87 (CanLII) at para 25 - relates to offender with weapon in vehicle next to him


There is a significant difference between a drug addict trafficking to support habit and the non-addict trafficking for monetary gain.[1]

The onus is on the offender to establish that the offender is trafficking to support a habit. Specifically, there must be a causal connection.[2]

Lower end drug trafficking where the offender is motivated by addiction over profit will have a lower penalty.[3]

  1. see R v Andrews, [2005] O.J. No. 5708 (S.C.)
  2. R v Lively, 2006 NSSC 274 (CanLII) at para 39
  3. R v Matias-Pedro, 2003 BCCA 590 (CanLII) at para 18

Breach of Trust

See also: Sentencing Factors Relating to the Offence#Breach of Trust

Breach of trust will exist when trafficking offences are committed by offenders who use their position of employment to facilitate the crime. Most frequently this is seen in prison staff, sheriffs or lawyers smuggling drugs into jail and prisons. Other circumstances include medical or legal professionals dealing drugs to their clients and transportation professionals facilitating importation of drugs. There also exist cases where law enforcement professionals steal drugs from exhibit lockers.

General Principles and Factors for Trafficking

Some courts distinguish between levels gravity for trafficking. There is (1) social sharing; (2) petty retail operation; (3) full-time commercial operation.[1]

Where the offender is not addict then he is not deserving of sympathy in committing the offence for the support of a habit as part of a disease.[2]

Denunciation and deterrence are the paramount focus in commerical trafficking.[3]

Court make some distinction between commercial and social trafficking.[4] The difference is considered an aggravating factor in sentence and so must be proven beyond a reasonable doubt. The factors of proof include the use of street lingo, cell phones, amount of drugs, method obtained, and method of dealing.[5]

Other factors include:

  • the offender’s level in the drug hierarchy
  • amount and value of the drug
  • number of transactions
  • prior related record
  • trafficking on impulse
  • planned and deliberate trafficking
  • social trafficking (sharing drugs with friends) vs commercial trafficking
  • trafficking in other types of drugs at the same time
  1. R v Fifield, 1978 CanLII 812 (NS CA), (1978) 25 NSR (2d) 407
  2. R v Williams [2010] OJ No 2971 (ONSC)(*no CanLII links) at para 20
    R v Woolcock, [2002] O.J. No. 4927 (C.A.)(*no CanLII links) at para 5
    R v Mandolino, [2001] O.J. No. 289 (C.A.)(*no CanLII links) at para 1
    R v Belenky, 2010 ABCA 98 (CanLII), at para 3
    R v Lau 2004 ABCA 408 (CanLII), (2004), 193 CCC (3d) 51 (Alta. C.A.) at para 33
    R v Nguyen, 2001 BCCA 624 (CanLII) at para 7
  3. R v Bui, 2004 CanLII 7201 (ON CA), [2004] O.J. No. 3452 (C.A.) at para 2
    Woolcock, supra at para 17
    Nguyen, supra, at para 14
  4. see e.g. R v Salame, 1999 ABCA 318 (CanLII) at para 3
  5. e.g. see R v Murray, 2012 ABPC 123 (CanLII)


In British Columbia, a trafficker should expect a prison sentence, absent exceptional circumstances.[1]

  1. R v Voong, 2015 BCCA 285 (CanLII) at para 1

Sentencing Ranges by Type of Drug