Pubdate: Wed, 15 Dec 2010
Source: Bracebridge Examiner (CN ON)
Copyright: 2010 The Bracebridge Examiner Ltd.
Author: Matt Driscoll
Bookmark: (Marijuana - Canada)


A sentencing hearing last week in a Bracebridge courtroom turned into
a debate on the pro and cons of marijuana use.

In the end, Judge George Beatty denied the Crown attorney's request
for a six-month prison sentence, instead giving a suspended sentence
to Michel Ethier for possession of marijuana.

The 53-year-old Sturgeon Falls man claims he is a reverend in the
Church of the Universe, which views the smoking of marijuana as a
religious sacrament.

On Aug. 10, 2008, Ethier was pulled over by police for erratic driving
on Highway 11 in Bracebridge, near the Cedar Lane exit. Police said
they found 376 grams of marijuana, along with eight marijuana
cigarettes, in Ethier's car.

Last month, Ethier was found guilty of possession of marijuana after
he failed to convince a judge that the charges were a violation of his
constitutional rights. On Thursday he appeared in court to face his

Sporting his ever-present knit cap, which he was allowed to wear as it
is part of his religious dress, the bearded and dreadlocked reverend
started the proceedings off by attempting to have the sentencing
postponed. Ethier said he is in the process of appealing his
conviction and the sentencing should be put off until that process is
finished. However, Crown attorney Steve White said there is a specific
appeal process that has to be followed and the judge agreed. White
said Ethier has already appealed the charges in both provincial and
federal court, but judges had ruled his appeals "frivolous and vexatious."

In pursuing a six-month jail sentence, White said Ethier began smoking
pot when he was 16, and was using it daily by his mid-20s. White said
it was during this period that Ethier began to rack up a criminal
record that came to include several break and enters and armed
robbery. White said Ethier's drug convictions alone include four
counts of trafficking, five for possession and several others
including cultivation, promoting the use of an illegal drug and
benefiting from the proceeds of crime. He has served a considerable
amount of jail time in the past, said White, and is currently facing
outstanding drug charges in North Bay.

"For a drug offender, he's the worst kind," said White.

White called Ethier's affiliation with the Church of the Universe a
"deathbed conversion" to justify his marijuana use.

"He was a chronic user well before he adopted his current religious
beliefs," said White. "Simply because you don't believe in a law
doesn't mean you can continually break it. There have been rulings on
this time and time again."

White said marijuana use causes harm to society and specifically
certain groups, such as those with mental problems can put themselves
and others in serious jeopardy by using the drug. He also said
marijuana is "worse than alcohol" when it comes to impaired driving
because marijuana is harder to detect.

In his own defence, Ethier told the court that marijuana has been
misunderstood for decades.

"People are being misled to believe this a gateway drug. Far from it,"
he said. "Cannabis is my medicine and my sacrament, and it's the
sacrament in my church."

Ethier said he has been "unjustly incarcerated" on many

"I have done wrong to society as a younger man - but over the last
decade I've caused no harm to anyone," he said. "If anything, harm has
been done toward me."

Ethier now has a medical licence to possess marijuana, obtained after
his arrest, and said he hopes his days of dealing with the police are

Both Ethier and the Crown agreed that an order of treatment would be
of little use.

"I don't have a problem," said Ethier. "Society thinks I have a

Judge Beatty said Parliament makes the laws on marijuana, and it is
legally entitled to do so. However, he opted to let Ethier, whom he
had earlier referred to as a "sympathetic defendant," walk out of
court a free man; granting him a suspended sentence and 18 months probation.

"God bless you, Your Honour," said Ethier as he left the courtroom.  
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