Pubdate: Thu, 12 Dec 2002
Source: Globe and Mail (Canada)
Page: A8
Copyright: 2002, The Globe and Mail Company
Author: Kirk Makin, Justice Reporter
Note: Links to information and documents for these cases are at
Bookmarks: (Cannabis - Canada)


Believes Politicians Are Simply Trying to Influence Call of Supreme

A federal proposal to decriminalize marijuana is nothing more than a
ruse to influence the Supreme Court of Canada as it prepares for a
major challenge to marijuana laws, a lawyer in the case says.

Lawyer Paul Burstein said Justice Minister Martin Cauchon's
ruminations about decriminalization echo a tactic used by his
department in the past to derail litigation that threatens marijuana

"Call me cynical, but I don't believe him," Mr. Burstein said in an
interview. "I don't see these efforts as being anything more than an
attempt to influence the litigation."

Mr. Burstein said former justice minister Allan Rock waved similar
promises about changing medical-marijuana provisions shortly before an
important case, Regina vs James Wakeford, a couple of years ago.

"It turned out to be a complete sham," Mr. Burstein

Three test cases are being heard together tomorrow. The appellants
claim that the possession law is an antiquated measure rooted in moral
sanctimony, not genuine concern about public safety.

Mr. Burstein pointed out a jarring contradiction between Mr. Cauchon's
statements about decriminalization and those contained in a Justice
Department brief to the Supreme Court that fiercely defends the laws.

"All three appellants seek to elevate a recreational pursuit to a
constitutional right," the federal brief states.

"To characterize the smoking of marijuana as going to an individual's
fundamental being is to trivialize these concepts. Simply put, there
is no free standing right to get 'stoned.' "

Mr. Burstein said it is hopelessly naive to believe that the federal
government will initiate decriminalization as long as U.S. President
George W. Bush is in power.

He said that far from being moot in light of Mr. Cauchon's
pronouncement, the Supreme Court case looms as all the more important.
Changes to marijuana laws will happen only if the Supreme Court calls
Mr. Cauchon's bluff, Mr. Burstein said.

"Even if the law isn't ruled unconstitutional, some strong language
from the court would give the government a large hook to hang its hat
on," he said. "The biggest hurdle is undoubtedly the U.S. government.
If the court says the law is stupid, it would give the government some
ammunition to fight our neighbours to the south."

The three appellants are as follows:

David Malmo-Levine, a Vancouver activist who formed an 1,800-member
"Harm Reduction Club" in 1996 to cater to marijuana-fanciers.

Christopher Clay, who owned a London, Ont., store called the Great
Canadian Hempatorium that sold marijuana implements, seeds and cuttings.

Victor Caine, a B.C. man who was arrested while sharing a joint with a
friend in his car.

Upon conviction, the three men joined an estimated 600,000 Canadians
with criminal records for cannabis-related offences under the
79-year-old possession law.

Government lawyers say in their brief that Parliament has a perfect
right to pass laws in the general good, and that challengers must show
it acted in "an irrational or arbitrary manner."

The appellants contend that the law is both an unwarranted intrusion
into provincial jurisdiction and a violation of the constitutional
right to life, liberty and security of the person.

The Canadian Civil Liberties Association, which has been permitted to
make legal arguments in the case, maintains that the health effects of
marijuana are minimal, particularly when compared with those of
tobacco and alcohol.

Other arguments sound a note of Sixties-style individualism. The B.C.
Civil Liberties Association, for instance, argues that pursuing
personal pleasure is fundamental to the autonomy of the individual.

In a passionate submission to the court, Mr. Malmo-Levine states that
the dangers of marijuana use are essentially limited to red-eyed
smokers forgetting where they have put their car keys.
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