Pubdate: Wed, 24 Dec 2003
Source: Fort Frances Times (CN ON)
Copyright: 2003 Fort Frances Times Limited
Author: Sue Bailey


There is no free-standing right to get stoned, Canada's top court
ruled yesterday.

Tokers hoping for relaxed marijuana laws instead got a lump of coal as
the Supreme Court of Canada upheld 6-3 a federal law banning
possession of small amounts of pot.

"I'm bummed out, man," said David Malmo-Levine, a self-styled pot
freedom crusader in Vancouver. "I was dreaming of a green Christmas
but they grinched out on us.

"Their hearts are two sizes too small."

Malmo-Levine, 32, and two other men failed to convince a majority of
the top judges that pot penalties are out of whack with constitutional
guarantees of fundamental justice.

The ban on possessing even tiny amounts does not violate the Charter
of Rights and Freedoms, said the court of last resort.

It's up to Parliament to decriminalize the drug, says the 82-page
ruling-something Prime Minister Paul Martin has signalled could happen
with a bill to be reintroduced next year.

But Ottawa should act with caution, said Tony Cannavino, president of
the Canadian Professional Police Association, which represents 54,000
rank-and-file members.

"Police officers across Canada don't have the tools and don't have the
proper training to face this legislation," he warned.

A national strategy to deter drug use is needed first, he

Yesterday's ruling simply clears the way for the government's plans,
said Mario Lague, a spokesman for the prime minister.

The high court punted a hotly-debated issue straight into Parliament's

It's up to elected lawmakers to decide whether to criminalize
possession of pot, wrote Justice Ian Binnie and now retired Justice
Charles Gonthier for the majority.

"Equally, it is open to Parliament to decriminalize or otherwise
modify any aspect of the marijuana laws that it no longer considers to
be good public policy."

The court also unanimously upheld federal law prohibiting possession
of marijuana for trafficking.

Dissenting justices Louise Arbour, Louis LeBel, and Marie Deschamps
said a law that threatens casual pot users with potential jail time is
like killing flies with a sledgehammer.

Charter guarantees of fundamental justice are undercut by a law that
can convict people "whose conduct causes little or no reasoned risk of
harm to others," wrote Arbour.

The high-court majority disagreed.

Parliament acted to limit pot use out of a valid state interest in
stemming related harms that are not "insignificant or trivial," it

The federal government filed a report to the court linking pot use
with car crashes, respiratory cancer, addiction, and other hazards.

In any case, there's no consensus that proof of harm is a prerequisite
for creating a criminal offence, ruled the court majority.

At issue were a trio of cases involving two self-described marijuana
activists and one man who was caught toking up. All three also had
failed to persuade lower courts that the pot law is

Malmo-Levine-the most colourful of the three-took a hit of hash last
May before arguing his case in person at the high court while dressed
head-to-toe in hemp clothes.

He once ran the Harm Reduction Club, a non-profit co-operative in East
Vancouver that offered advice on safe pot use while supplying it to
some 1,800 members.

He served a two-year conditional sentence after being busted in

Malmo-Levine was defiant yesterday. "I'll sell pot right in their face
and say: 'How dare you even touch me until you have evidence that it's
hurt anybody?'

"Where are the marijuana victims?"

Lawyer Alan Young, a University of Toronto professor who has led the
charge to reform pot laws, said Parliament has never proven that
recreational use causes anything more serious than bronchitis.
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