Dear Herb: What are the Penalties For Underage Cannabis Possession in Canada?

Article by Leaf News

Dear Herb: What are the penalties for underage cannabis possession in Canada? Canadian youth caught with less than five grams of cannabis won't face criminal charges, but other sanctions could apply Herb answers your questions about legal consumption and growing, the law, etiquette — you name it, he'll look into it.

Dear Herb: What would happen if a 13-year-old got caught with two grams of cannabis? — Possession While Pubescent

Dear Possession: Thanks for writing in with this excellent question. Let’s begin by reviewing what federal law says about youth cannabis possession.

Under the federal Cannabis Act, the prohibition on underage cannabis possession applies to youth aged 12 through 17. Kids under the age of 12 can’t be charged with a crime in Canada.

The Cannabis Act specifically prohibits possession of more than five grams of dried cannabis, or the legal equivalent, by a person in that 12 to 17 age bracket. There’s no criminal penalty for possession of less than five grams of cannabis by a person under the age of 18, although there are provincial sanctions for youth who possess any amount of cannabis (more on those later).

If a youth aged 12 to 17 is caught with more than five grams of cannabis and prosecuted under federal criminal law, they’d be sentenced under the federal Youth Criminal Justice Act. It’s hard to say exactly what a cannabis possession sentence might look like under that law, according to Mary Birdsell, executive director of Justice for Children and Youth, a non-profit legal clinic that serves children and youth in Ontario. Since legalization last October, she said, her legal clinic has not dealt with a single criminal prosecution of youth for cannabis possession.

Birdsell explained that Canada’s youth criminal justice system leaves police and crown prosecutors plenty of discretion about whether or not to move forward with criminal charges against youth. Charges could be withdrawn or stayed in favour of a warning, or in favour of participation in some kind of extrajudicial diversion program.

But if a young Canadian did get to the point where they were being sentenced by a judge for simple cannabis possession under the Youth Criminal Justice Act, Birdsell said, a custodial sentence (i.e. jail time) would be unlikely.

“The only way in which a non-violent offence might open the doorway to custody would be on the basis of repeated violations,” she said.

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