Pubdate: Wed, 18 Jul 2007
Source: Chronicle Herald (CN NS)
Copyright: 2007 The Halifax Herald Limited
Bookmark: (Cannabis - Canada)


Court Case Overload Feared, Constitutional Questions Raised

TORONTO (CP) - Ottawa needs to fix long-standing loopholes and 
inconsistencies in Canada's marijuana laws to help the justice system 
contend with a surge of court cases resulting from the Conservative 
government's new zeal for enforcement, legal experts say.

With witnesses reporting a dramatic increase in the number of 
possession cases before the courts, those familiar with the 
intricacies of the law say it remains vulnerable to the argument that 
Canada's medicinal marijuana program renders it unconstitutional.

"Everytime a judge calls into question our marijuana laws, it 
undercuts the legitimacy of the law," said Alan Young, a Osgoode Hall 
law professor and veteran of the long-standing debate about 
marijuana, its medicinal benefits and decriminalizing its possession.

Four years after Ottawa supposedly closed off a complex legal 
loophole that effectively rendered the law unenforceable, an Ontario 
Court judge agreed Friday that the law governing pot possession in 
Canada was unconstitutional.

The Liberal government's decision in 2003 to allow eligible patients 
access to marijuana for medicinal reasons was made by an informal 
policy statement and never changed the existing statutes or 
regulations, Lawyer Bryan McAllister argued.

"It is a departmental policy that can be changed at whim, or even 
ignored," McAllister said in an interview.

"An aggrieved party cannot go to court to seek enforcement of a 
government policy."

Without a clause that makes an exception for medicinal marijuana 
users, "the policy is not enshrined in law, it has no value, and the 
law as it stands is unconstitutional," McAllister said.

Ontario Court Justice Howard Borenstein agreed and dropped the 
charges against Clifford Lond, 29, a Toronto resident who was charged 
with possessing 3.5 grams of pot. Borenstein said he would wait two 
weeks to make a formal ruling, giving public prosecutors time to file 
an appeal.

Eric Nash, who has testified as an expert witness in a number of 
cannabis cases across Canada, said the number of cases he has been 
involved in has "tripled" in recent months.

"All of the sudden there seems to be a huge increase in the number of 
marijuana possession cases going to court," Nash said.

That's because the number of people arrested for smoking pot rose 
dramatically in several Canadian cities last year after the 
Conservatives took office and killed Liberal legislation to 
decriminalize small amounts of marijuana.

Preliminary figures suggested the number of arrests jumped by more 
than one-third in several Canadian cities; Toronto, Vancouver, Ottawa 
and Halifax all reported increases of between 20 and 50 per cent in 2006.
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