Pubdate: Tue, 24 May 2016
Source: Calgary Herald (CN AB)
Page: A13
Copyright: 2016 Postmedia Network
Author: Rob Breakenridge


There's never a good time to have a pointless case brought before the 
courts, but doing so in the midst of an acute judge shortage seems 
rather foolish and counterproductive.

Already this year in Alberta, three sexual assault trials have been 
delayed until 2017 because there are no judges available to hear 
them. Despite the already considerable strain on the system, though, 
Vancouver pot activist Dana Larsen is being prosecuted for the 
apparently heinous crime of giving away marijuana seeds.

Larsen was in Calgary last week for a brief initial court appearance, 
and his case has now been put off until June 10. Whether, or when, it 
makes it to trial is anyone's guess. Whether it should, though, is 
another question. Frankly, it's hard to see what we hope to achieve, 
other than wasting time, money and resources.

Larsen is facing one count of trafficking marijuana and one count of 
possession for the purpose of trafficking - charges serious enough to 
warrant prison time. The charges were laid last month following 
Larsen's stop in Calgary as part of his Over-Grow Canada tour.

Larsen visited 14 Canadian cities on the tour, spreading his message 
of marijuana legalization. The tour, though, included an element of 
civil disobedience. Larsen vowed to give away a million marijuana 
seeds in the hope that the plants will grow so openly and commonly, 
it would no longer seem like such a big deal.

In 13 of the cities, Larsen handed out his seeds and had no trouble 
with law enforcement. That wasn't the case in Calgary, however. Five 
police officers were present that night, and once the seeds were 
being distributed, Larsen was arrested.

As police noted at the time, "under the Canadian Controlled Drugs and 
Substances Act, it is illegal to distribute marijuana in any form, 
regardless of whether payment is provided."

This is technically true. Also, the Calgary Police Service did not 
create Alberta's judge shortage, nor does that shortage mean that 
they stop doing their jobs.

However, that's not the only factor in deciding whether charges 
should be laid and whether the Crown should pursue the case in court.

First of all, there's the matter of priorities. There are shops in 
Calgary that sell marijuana seeds, for example, and clearly police 
don't see a pressing need to crack down on that.

For that matter, the litany of stores selling pipes and bongs and 
other marijuana paraphernalia are also technically in violation of 
the law. Despite the clear prohibition on such items, that's surely 
not on the radar of any police force in this country.

So why are Calgary police coming down so hard on Larsen? Or, to put 
it another way, is this prosecution in the public interest?

Even if a clear violation of the law has occurred, it still does not 
answer the question. As detailed on the Alberta Justice website, "a 
prosecution may only be commenced or continued if it is in the public 
interest to do so."

This case doesn't appear to meet that test. There's clearly no threat 
to public safety. The offence does seem trivial, and with Ottawa 
poised to legalize marijuana, it seems pretty clear that "the law 
that is alleged to have been breached is obsolete or obscure" - again 
according to the Alberta Justice website.

Further to that, then, the consequences of these charges would be 
"unduly harsh."

Additional factors that speak to public interest include the effect 
of a prosecution "on public morale and the public's confidence in the 
justice system," and also the "length and expense of the trial when 
considered in relation to the seriousness or triviality of the 
offence." Both of those seem quite relevant here.

There is nothing to be accomplished by pursuing this case, and it may 
just further undermine the system and our faith in it.

It's not too late to drop it.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom