Pubdate: Sat, 05 Jul 2003
Source: Regina Leader-Post (CN SN)
Copyright: 2003 The Leader-Post Ltd.
Author: Kevin O'Connor, Leader-Post
Bookmark: (Cannabis - Canada)


Although Saskatchewan courts have ruled Canada's law against the
possession of marijuana is still in effect here, some judges are
giving out the most lenient sentences possible.

Earlier this week, Provincial Court Judge Diane Morris gave a
43-year-old Regina man an absolute discharge after he pleaded guilty
to possession of 14 grams of marijuana.

It's the latest in a series of cases where Saskatchewan judges have
made reference to the changing landscape of marijuana laws in Canada.

An absolute discharge is the mildest sentence available when there is
a conviction and results in no criminal record if the offender didn't
have one previously.

Last month, another Regina judge gave a man caught with 50 grams of
marijuana an absolute discharge after he pleaded guilty.

Morris said the discharge she ordered was appropriate "due to the
developments in this area of the law."

That's presumably a reference to recent Ontario court decisions where
marijuana charges have been thrown out -- as well as to the federal
government's plan to decriminalize the possession of small amounts of
the drug.

Currently, the maximum penalty for simple possession of less than 30
grams is a six-month jail term and a $1,000 fine.

But under legislation introduced May 27 by federal Justice Minister
Martin Cauchon, possession of up to 15 grams of pot would be a minor
offence, fines would be reduced and jail wouldn't be an option.

Parliament, which has adjourned for the summer, has yet to pass the
proposed law.

In the meantime, an Ontario Superior Court ruling has effectively
struck down the law against simple possession in that province.

On May 16, a Windsor Superior Court judge upheld a lower court
decision that found there was no law banning possession of marijuana
under 30 grams, due to the federal government's failure to comply with
a previous court ruling.

In response, police forces across Ontario announced they would not lay
marijuana possession charges until there was a decision from the
Ontario Court of Appeal.

In several recent cases, Ontario judges have simply thrown out
possession charges.

In Saskatchewan, the courts have recently taken a look at the
applicability of the federal pot law to this province -- and have come
to different conclusions.

In April, Moose Jaw Legal Aid lawyer Merv Shaw asked Provincial Court
Judge David Orr to declare the marijuana possession law "no longer in
effect or force" with respect to three men charged with offences under
the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act.

Orr ruled the marijuana laws are fully in force in Saskatchewan and
the prosecutions of the three would continue.

Cpl. Rob Willis of the Regina Police Service said it doesn't matter
what the sentences are, police will continue to charge people with

"It's business as usual here," he said.

Likewise, federal Crown agent Hal Wellsch, who handled the marijuana
case that resulted in the absolute discharge Thursday, said pot
prosecutions will continue while the existing law remains in place.

In some cases, the federal Crown sends drug possession cases to the
Regina Alternative Measures Program (RAMP), an alternative to the
formal court system that can provide drug education to adults and youth.

But many of the cases will continue to be heard in provincial court,
Wellsch said.

"The law's the law," he said. "Our orders are to proceed."

Wellsch noted that while absolute or conditional discharges are fairly
common for pot possession in Regina, some offenders have received
hefty fines in other courts around the province.

The sentences vary depending on a variety of factors, including the
amount of the drug and whether the offender has a criminal record, he
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