What quantity of drug is too much for personal use?

In Legal Articles by Linden Schwark

In Canada, an accused person can be charged with:

  1. Possession for the purpose of trafficking (“PPT”) or
  2. simple possession (commonly referred to as simple possession)

Quantity is just one factor that the court will consider when trying a charge of PPT. The prosecutor will typically call an expert witness to testify as to the quantity of the substance. This expert witness is invariably a police officer or ex-police officer with significant experience in drug trafficking investigations. The expert will testify to the standard practices of drug users, including how much of the drug they will typically consume, how they store it, and how much they usually buy at a time. For highly addictive substances, it is unusual for a drug user to possess a large quantity at one time.


Some of the factors that the court will consider when determining whether a person is in possession for the purpose of trafficking include:

  • Weight. How long would it take a drug user to consume the quantity seized? A day? A week? A month? Or, as Sean Fagan has seen in some cases… years. 
  • Packaging. How is the drug packaged? Is it packaged in one bag? Or is it packaged in 40 individual packages ready for sale? 
  •  Scales. Were there scales found near the drugs? A scale is typically a factor that supports a finding of PPT.
  • Scoresheets. Were there score sheets or drug ledgers found near the drugs? This is a factor in support of the finding of PPT.
  • Cell phones. Were multiple cell phones found on the person where the drugs were found? The court views multiple cell phones as indicia of drug trafficking.
  • Currency. If the drugs were found near a large amount of cash, this is viewed by the courts as indicia of drug trafficking. 
  • Tools of use. If devices like pipes or needles are found near the drugs, this is typically viewed as indicia of personal possession. 

There are many factors that the court will consider when determining whether an individual was in possession for personal use or for the purpose of trafficking.

The difference between being convicted of possession for trafficking and simple possession is enormous. A conviction for simple possession will often be dealt with by a fine or probation. A sentence for possession for trafficking in hard drugs carries a lengthy period of incarceration.

Although possessing illegal drugs is always risky, keeping them in large quantities, even for personal use, increases the risk of harm and criminal liability. 

Many technical issues can arise when defending drug prosecutions. An experienced drug defence lawyer can review a file with an eye for detail.