Harsher penalties for pot dealers who sell to young people will change the way marijuana charges are defended and prosecuted in the courts, according to Saskatoon lawyer Ron Piché.

The Cannabis Act, part of the federal government's plan to legalize pot by July 1, 2018, imposes tough new penalties of up to 14 years in prison for giving or selling marijuana to minors.

A new offence with a penalty of up to 14 years in prison will also be created for using a youth to commit a cannabis-related offence.

Piché — currently representing nearly 40 clients facing marijuana-related charges — said the target market for pot sales is not typically a factor in trafficking cases now.

That will change if the legislation known as Bill C-45 is passed, he said.

"[As a defence lawyer] you are going to be more vigilant to the fact that there may be younger people involved in the alleged trafficking," said Piché.

"It certainly will require you to screen this a little more carefully."


Ron Piché says he is currently representing just under 40 people on marijuana-related charges. (CBC)

Most pot cases now don't make it to court

Piché said most pot charges for smaller amounts are currently dropped before they make it to court.

"The federal government and the federal Crown office that prosecutes the run-of-the-mill marijuana charge, not often do they see the light of day," he said.

"They're either mediated or disposed of in other ways."

Neary case example of shorter sentence

He said even those cases that do make it through the courts — such as possession or trafficking of larger quantities of marijuana — do not usually attract a significant prison sentence.

Pointing to the 15-month jail sentence imposed on ex-University of Saskatchewan football player Seamus Neary, he said the potential for harsher penalties would be much greater under the 14-year maximum sentence.

"Fourteen years shows that the government has decided to take trafficking to minors, young people, extremely [seriously]," he said.

"Ironically, at the same time, and I think there's a little bit of incongruity here … there's a more liberal approach to adults."

The bill passed its second reading on June 8.

New measures to deal with enforcement of impaired drivers are also part of the federal government's pot plan.