Pubdate: Fri, 11 Mar 2016
Source: National Post (Canada)
Copyright: 2016 Canwest Publishing Inc.
Author: Ian MacLeod
Page: A6


Judge Points to Pending Legalization

OTTAWA - Some judges are questioning why people continue to be 
prosecuted for simple possession of marijuana while the Liberal 
government moves to legalize the narcotic, the country's most senior 
prosecutors told parliamentarians Thursday.

The House of Commons justice committee heard that one magistrate is 
even considering whether to continue with a simple-possession case 
before the court given the Liberals' promise to turn pot consumption 
into a legal, regulated recreational activity.

In the meantime, the federal government is spending upward of $4 
million a year prosecuting those caught with small, personal stashes 
of the drug, the committee was told. Tens of millions more is spent 
on police, jail and court costs. In 2014 alone, 22,000 people were 
charged with marijuana-related offences.

"People in my community, I'm talking the police and others, they 
don't know what's going on," NDP MP committee member Murray Rankin 
said Thursday. "These people have talked about reform, why can't they 
decriminalize in the near term, why can't they show us a road map of 
where we're going in marijuana?"

RCMP Commissioner Bob Paulson, testifying this week before another 
Commons committee, said as long as the current law is on the books, 
the Mounties will not turn a blind eye. The Canadian Association of 
Chiefs of Police has made a similar declaration.

Brian Saunders, director of the Public Prosecution Service of Canada, 
said "What we've heard occasionally from prosecutors, sometimes the 
courts are questioning why we're proceeding with these cases given 
the government has announced its intention in the future to legalize 
the possession of marijuana.

"The position we've taken is quite simply that until Parliament has 
enacted a new law, the current law remains in force and if cases are 
referred to us, we will conduct our usual assessment, and if it meets 
our threshold test for prosecution, we will continue to prosecute that case."

George Dolhai, deputy director of prosecutions, told the committee of 
one current case "where the judge has indicated a concern that may ( 
lead) to not proceeding." He said he had no further details.

Liberal MP committee member and former Toronto police chief Bill 
Blair, the government's point man on the pot file, said nothing. He 
later spoke privately with Saunders and Dolhai.

Blair recently insisted government has a duty to maintain a hard line 
on continuing prosecutions for minor offences until marijuana is on 
the same legal footing as alcohol and tobacco. He said cabinet will 
later likely consider whether to suspend some previous convictions.
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