Pubdate: Fri, 06 May 2016
Source: Amherst News (CN NS)
Copyright: TC Media 2016
Author: Darrell Cole
Page: 7


To Those Facing Sentencing for Marijuana Possession

An Amherst defence lawyer is offering free legal representation to 
Cumberland County residents facing sentencing for possession of 
cannabis for personal use.

Jim O'Neil said Thursday he is offering the service through the 
remainder of 2016 and only to people who have pleaded guilty and are 
in the sentencing phase.

"In this country we have the ancient common-law tradition of amicus 
curiae. When a lawyer believes an injustice might occur in a court 
proceedings, the lawyer can appear as a friend of the court and 
provide representation, usually this is done without charge," said 
O'Neil. "The Canadian government has announced that simple possession 
of cannabis for personal use will be decriminalized in 2017.

"The minute that announcement was made, the moral underpinning for 
the criminal prosecution of simple possession vanished. While 
technically still the law, in a democracy, the law normally has some 
basis in common sense and morality

While Ottawa has said simple possession will be removed from the 
criminal code, it hasn't told the Department of Justice to stop 
laying charges and police and the Crown are on automatic pilot when 
it comes to the charge.

Ideally, the federal government will tell Crown attorneys and police 
to refrain from laying charges.

"I'm hoping that by taking this public position, it might bring 
public focus on the potential injustice to thousands of people over 
the next year or so," said O'Neil. "It seems to me that the decent 
thing to do while this matter is being sorted out, is for the federal 
government to instruct the Public Prosecution Service of Canada not 
to proceed with prosecutions for simple possession of cannabis for 
personal use. This does not involve a change in the law, but the 
simple exercise of a discretion which the government does have to do 
the right thing in a broad sense."

O'Neil said he will appear in court for any person from Cumberland 
County who has pleaded guilty to simple possession and needs 
representation during the sentencing phase. He will ask the judge to 
give either an absolute or criminal discharge.

Under the Criminal Code, when a person pleads guilty, the court, 
instead of convicting them, can discharge them on the spot or with 
conditions such as probation.

In Canada, that means the person has no criminal record for having 
been convicted of a criminal offense.

"Unfortunately, it's not a perfect solution because the Americans do 
not recognize our system and will treat it as a conviction at the 
border and the person still may have difficulty entering the U.S.," 
he said. "However, it's the best I can do in the circumstances."

Because of the time commitment required, O'Neil said he cannot do 
trials for people facing trial for simple possession.

"At this point I'm an army of one," he said. "But perhaps others may 
follow my example."
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom