Bill C-15: What it Means for Cannabis Producers and Sellers

Bill C-15 imposes mandatory minimum jail sentences for a variety of CDSA (Controlled Drugs and Substances Act) offences including the sale and production of cannabis. It also raises the maximum penalty for producing cannabis from 7 years to 14 years. This article will focus on the impact on cannabis producers and distributors, though we should be aware that the negative consequences of this Bill will affect all Canadians.

The Bill, proposed by the Conservative minority government in the House of Commons and supported by the Liberals and New Democrats, was amended, slightly, by the Senate Committee that studied it. While the Committee heard from a lot of witnesses, the amendments that were adopted tell me that they didn’t hear what those witnesses had to say. I am profoundly disappointed in the members of the Committee who, at the very least, could have amended this Bill to protect medical cannabis producers and sellers. For a time it seemed they would – I was asked specifically to write amendments for that purpose. They were not even debated. The Committee could also have amended the Bill to restore judicial discretion to depart from mandatory sentences in appropriate circumstances (as it did for aboriginal offenders). That didn’t happen either.

The one amendment that affects cannabis removed the mandatory sentences for between 6 and 200 plants if, and only if, no aggravating factors apply. Let me repeat that to be clear: the Senate amendment did not remove mandatory jail time for under 200 plants. It only removed jail as an option if none of the aggravating factors are present.

Unfortunately the aggravating factors are so broad as to make the amendment nearly meaningless. Mandatory minimums will still be imposed for producing between 1 and 200 cannabis plants for the purpose of trafficking if there were weapons used or found, the location was booby trapped or rendered unsafe, the production created a danger to the public in a residential area or the property of a third party (ie, a rental unit) was used in the offence. These four factors are called “aggravating factors” and they also increase the mandatory sentences if more plants are being grown.

On a practical level, this will impact renters disproportionately. Also, when was the last time a cannabis production site in a residential area was not considered to be a danger to the public? Prohibitionists have mounted a decade-long propaganda war that has successfully convinced the public that cannabis can only be produced unsafely – something we know is completely false but that has become dogma. This means that, if you grow cannabis to sell (or even give away), in order to avoid the impact of the mandatory sentences you basically have to do it on rural property that you own. Oh, and by the way, if you do it on property you own you run the very real risk that the government will seek to forfeit that property, in some cases without even needing to convict you of the crime!

Cannabis producers

If you produce between 1 and 200 plants for the purpose of trafficking and one of the aggravating factors is present, you will be sentenced to nine months in prison.

If you produce between 201 and 500 plants for any purpose you will be sentenced to one year in prison. If any of the aggravating factors are present, the sentence is increased to eighteen months.

If you produce more than 501 plants for any purpose you will be sentenced to two years. If any of the aggravating factors are present, the sentence is increased to three years.

Hash, resin, oil, cookie producers

If you produce anything in Schedule II to the CDSA (which contains essentially all of the cannabis derivatives including resin) for the purpose of trafficking you will be sentenced to one year in prison. If any of the aggravating factors are present, the sentence is increased to eighteen months.

Cannabis sellers

If you sell cannabis (or any Schedule II substance) in amounts greater than 3 kilograms, or possess such amounts for the purpose of trafficking, you will be sentenced to a mandatory year in prison if you commit the offence in connection with a criminal organization, threaten or use violence in committing the offence, carry, use or threaten to use a weapon in the commission of the offence or if you were convicted of, or served a term of imprisonment for, a “designated substance offence” in the last 10 years. “Designated substance offences” are basically production and sale offences. Note that the Senate Committee changed the last aggravating factor to read “convicted of and served at term of imprisonment of at least one year, or served a term of imprisonment for a ‘designated substance offence’”.

The sentence is increased to two years if you commit the offence in or near a school, on or near school grounds or in or near a place usually frequented by people under 18, in a prison or on prison grounds, or if you involve a person under 18 in committing the offence.

The purpose of trafficking: what does it mean?

One of the prerequisites to mandatory sentences for producing less than 201 plants or for producing hash and byproducts is that it be done for the purpose of trafficking. This will have to be proven beyond a reasonable doubt at trial or at a sentencing hearing. The typical manner of proof is to put forward evidence that suggests trafficking: score sheets, scales, quantities of cash, multiple cell phones, baggies and the like. Obviously having those things at your production site will significantly increase your chances of facing a mandatory jail sentence.

Another method is to use a police “expert” witness to give an opinion based on the various circumstances. Police will, for example, typically assign average yields to plants and multiply that yield by the number of plants found to come up with an expected harvest. The witness will then assign values to that harvest at per gram (“street”) and per pound prices. The officer then opines on the average consumption habits of even heavy, chronic users and suggests that the harvest will produce so much cannabis that the person could not possibly use it all before it goes bad. These things, according to the expert, support a conclusion that the purpose of producing the cannabis was to sell it.

It is certainly likely that people accused of producing for the purpose of trafficking will need to find and call rebuttal experts to seek to poke holes in the police theories. Police often, for example, fail to take into account things like sexing the plants, crop failure, genetic predisposition on yield, harvest fluctuation due to manner of growth (ie, 200 plants in a “sea of green” garden will yield substantially less cannabis than 200 growing 8 feet high in a warehouse) and other factors. They also tend to underestimate the ability of people to consume vast amounts of cannabis, or the different methods of ingestion that affect how much of the plant is used.

Other aspects of C-15

One of the more pernicious, and little discussed, aspects of C-15 is its effects on the availability of discharges (either absolute or conditional) and Conditional Sentence Orders.

A discharge is a sentencing option that allows the finding of guilty but no entry of a criminal conviction. Absolute discharges take effect immediately, at sentencing. Conditional discharges take effect after the individual completes certain conditions, typically spending a period of time on a sort of probation.

Discharges have often been used to give people second chances, or to dispense with the need for a conviction when it is in the interests of justice to do so. I have often had success obtaining discharges for persons growing cannabis for medicinal purposes, or for people growing a few plants for their own personal use.

Unfortunately, if C-15 passes, those days are over. Discharges are not permitted if the offence is punishable by either a mandatory minimum sentence or if a 14-year sentence is available. Cannabis production will now carry a 14-year maximum (up from 7), meaning that even personal non-commercial producers – even those not subject to the mandatory sentences – will no longer be discharge-eligible.

A Conditional Sentence Order (CSO) is a custodial sentence served in the community. The sentence length is set by the judge, though it must be under 2 years, and so are the conditions. Conditions can run the gamut from very strict 24-hours-a-day house arrest to much less restrictive curfews. A CSO is imposed in situations where the judge feels that the offence was serious enough to merit custody but the offender is not a risk to the community and the CSO fits with the principles of sentencing.

I’ve been successful in obtaining CSO dispositions even for persons charged with very large commercial production when, for example, there was no evidence of violence, no involvement with organized crime, the person was a first time offender with a family, job and good community involvement. Judges are often receptive to giving people a chance to continue contributing to their family and community instead of incarcerating them for growing cannabis.

Unfortunately, that discretion has also been stripped away by C-15. A CSO is not available for offences that carry mandatory minimum sentences.

What does it all mean?

One of the most ironic effects of C-15 will be to drive “mom and pop” growers out of the business. This will inevitably mean that organized crime will further solidify its grip on cannabis production and distribution. Despite propaganda to the contrary, the reality of cannabis production is that there are a whole lot of people engaged in relatively small scale production for distribution to friends and acquaintances. Organized crime certainly operates the massive production sites: much of this product is destined for the export markets. But by and large the cannabis that ordinary Canadians buy and use comes from small-scale local producers and is sold to them by people they describe as friends. That is probably going to change.

Another ironic effect will be an increase in the number of production sites. The market will respond to this legislation. Not by going away – that idea is lunacy. But, instead, organized criminals (who have substantial financial resources due to prohibition) will avoid the most harsh mandatory sentences by (a) buying properties to avoid the “rental property” aggravating factor; and (b) establishing many smaller production sites (with larger plants) to avoid the harsher penalties for over 200 and 500 plants.

A final irony comes when comparing the sentences for importing with that for production. Importing any amount of cannabis (from one joint to a hundred thousand pounds) will carry a mandatory minimum sentence of one year in jail. This means that the mandatory minimum sentence for importing cannabis is less than that imposed for growing 501 plants. Whether this will increase the import trade remains to be seen as these are mandatory minimums and importers of any significant quantity almost always receive penalties substantially longer than one year in prison.

Medical cannabis producers and sellers will be impacted severely by this legislation. It was not unusual to obtain discharges for people truly motivated by compassion. That will no longer be an option. If police decide to take enforcement action against Canada’s compassion clubs a lot of good, caring, compassionate people will be facing long jail terms.

People that produce hash and cannabis products such as cookies will also face severe penalties – production of even one gram of hash or a dozen cookies, if made to sell or even to give away, will carry a minimum one year sentence and possibly more if you are baking the cookies in a rental property.

All told, the effects of this legislation on the cannabis community should not be underestimated. Canadian enjoy cannabis: we consume an estimated 7 – 10 million grams of it each week. Someone has to grow, process and sell it to the over two million regular consumers. Because of Bill C-15, it is likely that the exact people we don’t want controlling this marketplace will be able to tighten their grip perhaps to the point of a virtual monopoly. This bodes ill for all Canadians.

Kirk Tousaw is barrister and social justice advocate, the Chair of the Drug Policy Committee of the British Columbia Civil Liberties Association and is a member of its Board of Directors, and the executive director of the Beyond Prohibition Foundation. Read his blog on Cannabis Culture.



  1. Be nice! on

    How did the Palestinians come up in a debate about marijuana legislation? That was a very uncalled for and quite simply mean thing to say.

  2. Anonymous on


  3. Anonymous on


  4. Anonymous on

    Sieg Heil! Sieg Heil! Sieg Heil!

    Heil Harper!

    Heil the Canadian Fuehrer along with all the filthy fascist animals that are backing him in the Parliament.

  5. Anonymous on

    Thanks for the comfort, but seriously.
    The media is guilty of dramatizing the falsified conservative party and law enforcement press-releases.
    Please read the bill.
    Punishments are included for producing as little as one plant.
    Maximums range from 14 years, I can’t recall for certain but I believe there were some instances that would have a maximum of life sentences.
    The bill contains, unfairly discriminates against the poor for a number of reasons. It discriminates against the sick. It discriminates against honest good harmless people who choose to dissociate themselves from the criminal underground for whatever reason. The new bill will only increase the market share that organized crime operates since it will take away from small growers too scared of the permanent loss of health, life or livelihood that this new bill imposes. Also the cost will go up if the bill passes due to the cost of contraband relating directly to the risk of providing it, and the lack of competition that the new market will contain. Far more hard drug sellers will get into the pot market as they are already risking harsher penalties for providing hard drugs and will be at no additional risk for providing cannabis along with their traditional products. The average person however is not interested in the risk of going to jail, and the sick people who need cannabis or choose to use it were completely ignored by this bill. The intention of the Harper government to imprison and therefor harm or kill persons who require cannabis but have not been able to jump the red tape hoops the government has set up illegally to cause it to be impassible for the majority of ill people in Canada in need of this medicine, which according to the government’s own information poses no more risk than any other accepted medicine and has no serious dangers associated with it and the very rare and unlikely side effects are easy to manage with conservative measures which include reassurance. They then go on to claim it is not a medicine, because it has not been issued a notice of compliance. But Marinol has. But Sativex has. But there is innumerably less evidence of the efficacy or safety of these drugs than natural raw herbal cannabis. Hmm. Oh and the Government’s own Senate committee charged with examining the issue, ruled that cannabis is not particularly harmful, and should be available to anyone 16 and up. Why are the courts ruling in Parker, and the Senates own reports being ignored?

  6. Anonymous on

    those penalties sound like a day at an amusement park compared to what the law gives us here in the states…I’m not trying to trivialize your prediciment, it’s still bullshit what your government is doing! Although I would sleep like a baby at night looking at a year in jail compared to almost a decade here for a couple hundred plants…my kids would be in college by the time I was paroled. Looks like your domestic prices are going to go up like the price of gold….may just be a gift horse your punching in the mouth. Jail sucks though and I wish it upon no one except rapist and killers. I hate to say it, but the only way ganja will ever be legal is if we take it to the streets with violence like back in alcohol prohibition. Politics are for liars and thieves, of which I’m niether.
    Fuck all government!!!!!!!!

  7. Anonymous on

    Hi Kirk,

    THIS IS A VERY IMPORTANT QUESTION. Since Bill C-15 has been amended, it needs to go back to the House of Commons and be supported by our parliamentarians, right? So doesn’t that mean that the Liberal MPs have a second chance to scrap this bill once and for all? Should we not all be lobbying our MPs and the leader and justice minister of the Liberal Party as a last ditch effort?

    Thank you for spending time speaking to the committee.

  8. Anonymous on

    What it means id you subjects /slaves/cowards will soon loss EVERYTHING!! WHY? Because you all followed a fuck up plan by one fuck up person, So Cowards!, enjoy your new ROYAL? CAGES!! To bad none of you had a pair? It be a whole different story then? But that wishful thinking When has Britian ever won anything that the states didnt help them with? They whould have lost in WW1 and WW2 if we didnt SAVE YOUR COWARDS ASSES TWICE!!Dont you get AMERICANS you been following a SLAVE and a fuck up plan that never work?? Whats there more for you all to know?? Quit following a BRITISH SUBJECT!! Didnt you guys get rid of there type of bullshit over 200years ago. When has any AMERICAN FOLLOW FOLLOW ALOSER, bush does not count, he rigged the vote! and the world know it! AMERICANS DONT FOLLOW LOSERS if you follow this british slave what does that make YOU?? Stupid to begian with?

  9. Anonymous on

    What’s your point, Abdul? You think Palestinians belong in Canada instead of standing with their brothers in Palestine?

  10. Anonymous on

    ignorant bigot you sound like Jew

  11. renney b. on

    the canadian government still thinks they can win the war on marijuana… if this bill ( c-15 ) becomes law it will only intensify the war and increase the casualties… as bob marley say,’ many more will have to suffer, many more will have to die…’ obveously these backward looking policies will produce the same results as this old prohibitionist one; fill jails, destroy lives and property and intimidate the youths… they fail to acknowledge that cannabis is the safest medicine on the planet and with all it other superior nutritional and industrial properties . now is the time to rewrite history with a new progressive legalization law. there is a saying, ‘there is no use beating a bead horse’; these guys are wasting taxpayers time and money trying to drum up support for a lost war. now is the time to make peace with the citizens of the planet and i am ashamed that canada did not take the leading role. if we have to face the final conflict and make canada another battle field so be it but, this is a bad bill (c-15) for canada. for us to use cannabis, we have to grow cannabis and trading cannabis and it many byproducts; threatening us with jail time will never end this. this has been going on for thousand of years , for now and for future generations to continue to eat of the tree of life… steven harper and his gang will never defeat this mighty army called the cannabis / hemp culture… for their information, one day we gonna throw them in jail for not using cannabis… peace and love and fyah.

  12. Dave on

    What do politicians and outlaws have in common? I’m not sure but at least we know from Bernier, some of them like the same women.

    I’m pretty sure the legal system relies on ‘guilty pleas’ to help move things along. With some leniency a person could rationalize guilty but not under these backward rules.

    I don’t get it? Don’t they know they’ll clog-up the courts and open more doors for outlaws?

    All I know is if I could grow my pound per week, I’d never have to deal with another outlaw!

  13. Anonymous on

    Oh who gives a crap anymore? Doesn’t matter what the sentences are, unless you get caught. All you have to do is be smarter than the average cop, which is extremely easy. Then of course there’s always the policy of not associating with any snitch ass bastards or bitches. Even without the mandatories most judges would send you to prison for 200 plants anyway, at least for 6 months. 3 more months isn’t going to make a big difference. Granted most wouldn’t imprison you for 5 plants but then who the hell grows 5 plants anyway? You’re going to have a good hundred plants in various stages of growth if you want any kind of yield.

    It’s the same as always. Cannabis growers against the nerd ass Christians like Harper and Nicholson. They will never be more than a minor irritant to smart experienced growers. They will do a good job of driving up prices and that’s about all they will accomplish, ever. Yes, I sympathize with those who are unfortunate enough to actually get caught but 9 months isn’t going to kill you anyway. It’ll make a mess of your life for a while but then you’ll be right back at it. Be sure to use rental properties so the cops can’t confiscate your own house. Preferably, rent from some scumbag foreigners. They love to come here and become slumlords and make money off the Canadians. Maybe you’ll get real lucky and find a house owned by Palestinians. Try to get as much mold in there as possible before abandoning it and moving on to another Palestinian house. What are they doing here anyway instead of fighting against Israel? They want to make money off us and then use it to make some bombs. Here’s a mold bomb for you, Akhmed.

  14. fatigues on

    Bill C-15 did not modify the MMAR or create new offences, as such.

    It is a sentencing bill, for the most part.

    If you have a permit to possess or grow under the existing MMAR, you continue to have it. You’re good.

    The only real effect it may possibly have is drive up the price at – or possibly even force the closure of – some compassion clubs if the Bill should pass.

    It has not passed yet by the way. The Full Seante has voted to pass the amendments proposed by the Standing Senate Committee. The Bill has therefore been sent back to the House of Commons, which must consider the amendments.

    The House will have to repass the amended Bill in order r the Bill to become law. I suppose the Liberals might suddenly find a spine given their new stated opposition to government bills. If they refuse to pass it again – Bill C-15 goes NOWHERE.

    I wouldn’t count on that – but it’s possible. Point is: the Fat Lady has not yet sung.

  15. freeslave on

    ‘O Canada

    True north strong and free…?

  16. plink on

    lol at perfumed hypocritical faggots in parliament, grows and land forever, food for rhetorics, trust for suspicion, considered thought over loneliness.

  17. Anonymous on

    What does this mean for medical exempted people? Do I have to move to the country now? Will medical exempt people not be able to grow in there rented houses?
    How is it safe for Health Canada to tell me I can grow it in my house when the laws are saying its a law because it is unsafe to grow?>? health risks, fire hazardz etc.
    I am so confused. I am a good father, I care about by child, I do not expose her to the marijuana plant nor to the smoke.
    According to this information, having a child involved, is a factor for minimum sentences.
    How is it no risk for me as a medical marijuana user who has a child living at a residence where marijuana is cultivated? Either Health Canada is putting me and my family at risk by telling me it is ok to grow in my residence, or some of these reasons for extra sentences are bull.
    How do these people that write these laws expect us to suck and blow at the same time?

  18. fatigues on

    “Hash, resin, oil, cookie producers
    If you produce anything in Schedule II to the CDSA (which contains essentially all of the cannabis derivatives including resin) for the purpose of trafficking you will be sentenced to one year in prison. If any of the aggravating factors are present, the sentence is increased to eighteen months.”

    Kirk – you failed to mention the problem presented by growing a viable cannabis seed (and the purpose was for trafficking).

    Under those circumstances, a viable cannabis seed is ALSO covered in Schedule II. The main definition in Sched II applies tio ciable cannabis seeds, even if it is not referred to in the enumerated subsections in Sch. II as per the BCCA in R. v. Hunter. Due to the unfortunate way the Bill is drafted, viable cannabis seeds are not treated for sentencing purposes as “cannabis (marihuana)” and therefore are treated just as harshly for sentencing purposes as the production of hash is.

    If the aggravating factors are present, (in rented premises, for example) production of a viable cannabis seed carries an eighteen month minimum mandatory sentence.. I do not believe the effect the unfortunate way the Bill is drafted bears on this issue was raised before the Standing Senate Committee.

    This is a great concern, as while someone at least has to take an active step to make hash or oil or yes – a cookie – making a seed in a grow can happen all too easily.