Pubdate: Fri, 11 Mar 2016
Source: Province, The (CN BC)
Copyright: 2016 Postmedia Network Inc.
Author: Ian MacLeod
Page: A24


OTTAWA - Some criminal trial 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 one magistrate is even
considering whether to continue with a simple possession case before
the court given the Liberal's promise to turn pot consumption into a
legal, regulated recreational activity.

The federal government is spending upwards 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 crimes.

The government has not announced a timetable for when it intends to
introduce its reform legislation and growing public uncertainty over
the state of the law is clearly frustrating police and others.

"People in my community, I'm talking the police and others, they don't
know what's going on," NDP MP committee member and health critic
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, "there's a misunderstanding, it seems to me,
in the Canadian consciousness," whether possessing and dealing in
marijuana remains a crime.

As long as the law is on the books, Paulson said Mounties will not
turn a blind eye to people engaged in serious criminal enterprises
involving marijuana or where children could be harmed. The Canadian
Association of Chiefs of Police has made a similar

Yet on Thursday, Conservative MP and former justice minister Rob
Nicholson told fellow justice committee members he is hearing of "more
and more instances" of people growing marijuana. He asked whether
federal drug prosecutors across the country are noting related changes.

Brian Saunders, director of the Public Prosecution Service of Canada,
replied, "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

That test is a reasonable prospect of conviction and that the
prosecution serves the public interest.

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

As they spoke, 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 and did not
speak to reporters.
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