Pubdate: Tue, 09 Dec 2003
Source: Globe and Mail (Canada)
Copyright: 2003, The Globe and Mail Company
Author: Kim Lunman
Bookmark: (Decrim/Legalization)


Ottawa -- Ottawa is making it a green Christmas for 4,000 people -- it 
plans to stay thousands of charges of pot possession as a result of legal 
battles over medicinal marijuana.

The decision will apply to every person in Canada charged with possession 
of marijuana between July 31, 2001, and Oct. 7, 2003, Justice Department 
spokeswoman Pascale Boulay said yesterday.

The Justice Department intends to cease prosecutions on the cases because 
of an Ontario court ruling in 2000 that found medicinal-marijuana users had 
the right to possess less than 30 grams of pot. The judge delayed that 
ruling's effect for one year in the hope the federal government would 
introduce a medicinal-marijuana law.

But the government did not. Instead, the cabinet issued regulations for 
access to medicinal marijuana one day before the yearlong grace period 
ended 2001.The Ontario ruling created a legal loophole, effectively 
invalidating Canada's marijuana possession law as unconstitutional because 
it failed to provide an exemption for medical use.

"We estimate there are about 4,000 pending files," Ms. Boulay said. 
However, she said that criminal charges of marijuana possession will still 
be prosecuted today as a result of the government's announcement yesterday 
that it will not appeal the medicinal-marijuana case to the Supreme Court.

"It still constitutes an offence and [anyone caught with marijuana] would 
face charges." The federal government recently introduced legislation to 
decriminalize possession of small amounts of marijuana.

Possession of marijuana now carries a maximum penalty of six months in jail 
and a fine of up to $1,000.

The decision not to proceed with 4,000 possession prosecutions follows 
Health Canada's announcement yesterday that it would not appeal an Ontario 
Court of Appeal ruling in October that allows ill people to grow their own 
marijuana supply or to obtain it from designated growers.

Some police forces had virtually stopped enforcing the possession law after 
the initial ruling threw its constitutionality into question.

Last January, a Windsor judge cleared a 16-year-old on the grounds the 
federal pot-possession laws were no longer valid.

Yesterday, Health Minister Anne McLellan said the government would amend 
the Marijuana Medical Access Regulations to provide reasonable access to a 
legal source of marijuana for medical purposes.

"The amendments announced today will ensure that Canadians who suffer from 
serious medical conditions for whom conventional therapies have not been 
successful will have reasonable access to a legal source of marijuana," she 

But the people at the centre of the court case are upset the government 
will continue to strictly limit local growing operations, forcing patients 
to obtain government pot, which they consider inferior and overpriced.

"I've got mixed feelings about it," said Jari Dvorak, a 62-year-old 
medicinal-marijuana user in Toronto who uses the drug to alleviate symptoms 
of HIV. "They seem to be half-hearted about the program."

Mr. Dvorak is among 697 patients in Canada authorized by the government to 
use medicinal marijuana. He is also among 11 patients to take Ottawa to 
court over the program's lack of access.

The lawyer representing the patients in the case, Alan Young, also had 
concerns about whether the government would ensure access to medicinal 

"All I've seen is crisis public-policy management," he said. Under the new 
rules, it will be acceptable for a patient to pay his or her supplier, and 
the price is left for them to negotiate. But the rules will continue to 
prevent a grower from supplying more than a single patient, and to prevent 
more than three patients from cultivating together.

The new regulation contains some minor changes in the procedure for 
obtaining approval for marijuana access. One class of patients, which had 
previously required signatures from two medical specialists, will now 
require only one signature. Currently there is little scientific evidence 
that pot has therapeutic benefits, but many patients say it helps them deal 
with nausea, pain and lack of appetite.
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