Pubdate: Mon, 07 Jul 2003
Source: StarPhoenix, The (CN SN)
Copyright: 2003 The StarPhoenix
Author: Kevin O'Connor


REGINA -- Although Saskat-chewan 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 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 of less than 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 

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.

Federal Crown prosecutor 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.

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.
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