We almost brought some Noscapine pills into Canada. These are over the counter in Europe (so no prescription needed), but it turns out that they are schedule 1 drug in Canada (under the name "Narcotine"). We got rid of them in Frankfurt, but it raises the question of what to do if we had not.

1: If we discovered this on the plane, could we have just given them to the cabin crew? Would it make any difference if we are in European, international, or Canadian airspace as we are giving them the pills?

2: Assuming we land with them in Canada, what do we do and how screwed are we? Do we tell the first authority we see? Maybe at the passport control, or customs? Since they are not prescription drugs, we don't have any prescription for them.

3: One of us has a European passport, the other a Canadian. Does it make a difference who of us carries the pills?

Please note, "schedule 1" in Canada has a different meaning than in the United States.

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    With an amount obviously intended for personal use of an over-the-counter medication, I doubt you'd get into trouble.
    – phoog
    Jan 7, 2023 at 10:54
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    @phoog Note that the drug is OTC in Europe but not in Canada and not even allowed as a prescription drug as I understand it. Still, unless there are special circumstances (passenger already unfavourably known by customs…), in Canada, with a small quantity, I would expect some leeway, though they would probably confiscate the drugs and possibly impose a fine for good measure. In other countries that could be a lot more tricky.
    – jcaron
    Jan 7, 2023 at 12:13
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    @jcaron I understood that. I still think that a traveler with a modest amount of the substance in the form of an otc medication is unlikely to get into trouble even if it is detected.
    – phoog
    Jan 7, 2023 at 14:03
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    At minimum the drugs will be conviscated; they won't let you carry them in just because you didn't know they were illegal.
    – Stuart F
    Jan 8, 2023 at 0:34
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    If you were going to get rid of them on the plane, why would you draw attention by giving them to the cabin crew? Why not just go to the lavatory and drop them in the trash bin? Then it's unlikely that anyone would ever know you had them. Jan 8, 2023 at 5:50

1 Answer 1


Assuming we land with them in Canada, what do we do

This is a bit of an artificial question. The likelihood that you would find out on the plane seems very low. Even if you do, you could probably just dispose of them in the baggage claim hall following the "safe disposal" process as much as is feasible. See Safe disposal of prescription drugs on the official website of the Government of Canada.

If that's somehow not an option: I generally don't condone illegal behavior but in this case the best course of action would be to "do nothing": Just walk out with the drugs and dispose them as soon as you can safely do so. The chances that you will be stopped in customs, searched, and that the drugs would be found and identified as illegal are VERY low (unless there are other things about you that might attract customs attention).

Even if it gets found, you have plausible deniability. You bought this as an-over-the-counter drug for personal use in small quantities, so it's not unreasonable for someone to assume that these are perfectly fine to bring.

Of course ignorance does not protect from punishment, you are breaking the law, and it's hard to predict what exactly will happen. Most likely outcome here is probably that they would simply confiscate the drugs and leave you off with a stern warning or a fine, but it's also possible that they decide subject you to legal action.

More legal musings on the page Drug Importing Into Canada.

One important aspect mentioned

The Crown must prove both the act of importation, and the knowledge that the accused knew the drug was a controlled drug or substance, as per the Schedules in the CDSA.

Ironically this makes it less advisable to disclose the drugs to customs. By disclosing you admit knowledge that the drug was a controlled substance. If you get caught while walking out, you can credibly claim that you had no idea.

CAVEAT: I'm not a lawyer, this is not legal advice.

  • 8
    I think binning it before customs is the right thing, not walking out if you know they are illegal, whatever the chance of being found out.
    – Willeke
    Jan 7, 2023 at 12:33
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    I’d bet the vast majority of people never get a detailed luggage search even if stopped by customs. This never happened to me in ~100 border crossings during my lifetime and I always carry at least some medicine. Customs care about fentanyl, not random OTC drugs from Europe.
    – JonathanReez
    Jan 7, 2023 at 14:15
  • FWIW codeine is also schedule I, but no one ever got sentenced for importation of personal quality cough syrups to Canada ignorantly.
    – xngtng
    Jan 7, 2023 at 16:58
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    @xngtng Codeine is schedule 1?! WTH? If the drug schedules in Canada mean the same thing they do in the US, schedule 1 means it has no legitimate medical use, and that's not true of codeine. Jan 7, 2023 at 19:17
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    @CareyGregory. The Canadian drug schedules are different. Schedule I means prescription is required and the sale is regulated. Schedule II require intervention from the pharmacist at POS, are kept behind the counter and may require a provider to write a prescription. Schedule III don't require a prescription and can be self-selected, but are sold where the pharmacist can supervise and is available for assistance. The remainder are unscheduled. napra.ca/national-drug-schedules/…
    – RisingZan
    Jan 7, 2023 at 19:53

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